Frequently Asked Questions
The Philadelphia Museum of Art is a legacy of the nation’s great Centennial Exhibition of 1876. In 1877, the Museum opened to the public in Fairmount Park in what had served as the Centennial’s Fine Arts Pavilion, now known as Memorial Hall. By 1900, the Museum had outgrown this space, and plans for a new building gained momentum in the following decade. In 1917, when the Benjamin Franklin Parkway was nearing its completion, the City approved the final design for a new facility. A collaboration between the firms of Horace Trumbauer, and of Zantzinger, Borie & Medary, the Museum’s main building opened its doors in March 1928, and saw an attendance record of one million visitors in its first year.
Julian Abele, a member of Horace Trumbauer’s firm, is said to have created the final perspective drawings for the design of the main building, including the design of the exterior terracing and steps, and some of the interiors. Abele was the first African American to graduate with a degree in architecture from what is now the University of Pennsylvania. After joining the Museum design team, he traveled to Greece for inspiration and applied what he learned from the ancient buildings.
Our encyclopedic holdings include over 240,000 works, encompassing the departments of American Art; Contemporary Art; Costume and Textiles; East Asian Art; European Decorative Arts; Euopean Painting, the John G. Johnson Collection, and the Rodin Museum; Prints, Drawings, and Photographs; and South Asian Art. Through a longstanding agreement with the University of Pennsylvania, the Museum houses the Penn Museum collection of Chinese porcelain in exchange for the Museum’s Egyptian, Roman, and many Pre-Columbian works, which are kept at the Penn Museum.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art is filled with many renowned works. Among the most talked about are:
Dancing Ganesha (around 750)
Located in the newly renovated South Asian galleries, Dancing Ganesha represents the most widely worshiped Hindu god who is the source of all success and the Lord of Obstacles. This sculpture of Ganesha dates to around 750 and originally adorned an exterior wall of a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva.
Saint Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata (1430-32)
Saint Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata was painted by Jan van Eyck, the most celebrated painter in Northern Europe during the 1400s. Known for his ability to depict observed reality with a seemingly microscopic refinement, van Eyck showed this attention to detail in this small painting.
Staircase Group (Portrait of Raphaelle Peale and Titian Ramsay Peale I) (1795)
Staircase Group’s high degree of detail and finish show that Charles Willson Peale intended it as a trompe l’oeil, or trick-of-the-eye, “deception." To enhance the illusion, Peale installed the painting within a doorframe in his studio, with a real step in front.
Portrait of Dr. Samuel D. Gross (The Gross Clinic) (1875)
Gross Clinic is recognized as one of the greatesst American paintings. Philadelphia native Thomas Eakins, young and little-known at the time, painted it specifically for Philadelphia’s 1876 Centennial Exhibition. His intention was to showcase his talents and honor the scientific achievements of the city. The painting’s subject is the world-famous surgeon and teacher Dr. Samuel Gross, in a scene set in Jefferson Medical College’s surgical amphitheater. Eakins even included himself, seated at the right edge of the painting. The Gross Clinic was not shown in the centennial's Fine Arts pavilion because it was deemed too brutal; instead it hung in a medical building on the fairgrounds. Today it's jointly owned by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
Sunflowers (1888 or 1889)
While he waited for Paul Gauguin to join him in Arles in 1888, Vincent van Gogh painted five decorative still lifes of sunflowers. It isn’t known whether the Museum’s Sunflowers precedes Gaugin’s visit or is one of the two replicas van Gogh painted the following year. Either way, it's as vital and vivid in personality as the artist who painted it.
The Annunciation (1898)
American painter Henry Ossawa Tanner painted The Annunciation after a trip to Egypt and Palestine in 1897, and it's the first work by Tanner to enter an American museum. Specializing in religious subjects, Tanner wanted to experience the people, culture, architecture, and light of the Holy Land. This unconventional image depicts the moment when the angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will bear the Son of God.
The Large Bathers (1900-06)
This painting arose out of French painter Paul Cézanne’s lifelong exploration of the time-honored theme of nudes in a landscape. The Large Bathers is his largest, last, and most ambitious work of this subject. Cézanne painted three of these, and though they differ from one another, this one, perhaps because of its unfinished state, is the most exalted and serene.
Wall Street, New York (1915)
Wall Street, New York is one of some 3,000 photographs by Paul Strand in our collection. Wall Street illustrates the uneasy relationship between early twentieth-century Americans and their cities. From his early experiments with street photography in New York to his sensitive portrayal of daily life in New England, Italy, and, Ghana, Strand came to believe that the most enduring function of photography and his work as an artist was to reveal the essential nature of the human experience in a changing world.
Three Musicians (1921)
The pinnacle of Pablo Picasso’s exploration of Synthetic Cubism, Three Musicians represents the fictional characters of Harlequin, Pierrot and a Franciscan friar. However, the work has also been interpreted as an allegory of Picasso as a performer, a major theme of his highly autobiographical work. Here Picasso (as the Harlequin) is accompanied by his two friends poet and critic Guillaume Apollinaire and poet Max Jacob.
Grace Kelly’s Wedding Dress (1956)
Philadelphia native and Hollywood actress Grace Kelly wore this gown for her wedding 1956 to Prince Rainer III of Monaco. A gift from her studio, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the dress was designed by Academy Award winning costume designer Helen Rose and was conceived to complement the bride’s fairy-princess image. Shortly after the wedding, Kelly presented the gown to the Museum, where it has become one of the collection’s most popular and beloved objects.
The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths (Window or Wall Sign) (1967)
A seminal work in Bruce Nauman’s career, The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths conveys a metaphysical and deeply personal message through the commercial medium of neon. Creating a contradiction between medium and meaning, Nauman calls for the viewer to participate in determining the validity the statement.
*Please note: The works of art featured are not always on view. Many works are sensitive to light exposure and are rotated frequently, and some travel to other museums for exhibitions. Click the titles above to check whether a particular work is currently in the galleries.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art has many distinctive spaces, from galleries dedicated to individual artists to furnished "period rooms." Among the most distinctive are:
Completed in 1978 and collectively titled Fifty Days at Iliam, Cy Twombly’s “painting in ten parts” is installed in this gallery. The series is based on Alexander Pope’s translation of Homer’s Iliad.
Great Stair Hall
The Museum’s Great Stair Hall stands at the heart of the building and is one of the city’s great civic spaces. It also serves as a home for Museum special events, programs, and works of art. At the top of the Great Stair Hall stands Diana at 14 feet 6 inches tall. She is perhaps the best-known work of American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Originally installed in 1893 as a weather vane on the tower of New York City’s Madison Square Garden, the statue entered our collection in 1932. In 2013-14, Museum conservators re-gilded the sculpture to its original gold-leaf finish. At the balcony level of the Great Stair Hall are seven tapestries from Peter Paul Rubens’s “The History of Constantine the Great,” which were presented to Cardinal Francesco Barberini by Louis XIII of France in 1625.
Gallery 182 and 183
Since the 1950 bequest from Walter and Louise Arensberg, the Museum has been home to the largest and most important collection of Marcel Duchamp’s work in the world. Located in galleries 182 and 183, two of his greatest masterpieces, The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass) and Étant donnés: 1° la chute d'eau, 2° le gaz d'éclairage . . . (Given: 1. The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas . . . ) are permanently on view. The Large Glass was placed in the gallery in 1952 by Duchamp himself. Étant donnés entered the collection after the artist’s death in 1968.
Arms and Armor Galleries
The Museum contains a celebrated collection of arms and armor. The Horse Armor's of Duke Ulrich of Württemberg, for use in the field is the only surviving armor by Wilhelm von Worms the Elder, an illustrious armorer in the city of Nuremberg, Germany. The collection also includes several key works by the foremost armorers of Landshut, Germany, and its holdings of early Renaissance German armor ranks among the most important outside of Europe.
The Museum’s “period rooms” originated with Fiske Kimball, the Museum's director from 1925 to 1955 and a distinguished art and architectural historian. Kimball believed that a museum should express the world’s artistic culture in all mediums, merging architecture, painting, sculpture, and the decorative arts. He envisioned a “walk through time” with works of art installed together in dramatic galleries enhanced with period architectural elements and historical interiors. This vision led to the establishment of many of the Museum's distinctive spaces, including a French medieval cloister, the only South Indian Temple Hall to be found in North America, and a Japanese Teahouse.
The neoclassical building at the top of Benjamin Franklin Parkway is the main building, housing many galleries of works from the collections as well as special-exhibition spaces. Across Kelly Drive from the main building, on Pennsylvania Avenue, is the Museum’s Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building, which contains rotating exhibitions, a café, the library of archives, and a teacher resource center. It also houses the collections of costume and textiles, and prints, drawings, and photographs. The Museum administers the Rodin Museum, also on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, which showcases one of the largest collections of works by Auguste Rodin in the world, and two historic houses in Fairmount Park, Cedar Grove and Mount Pleasant. The Philadelphia Museum of Art is a registered Pennsylvania not-for-profit corporation. It is supported by endowments, voluntary gifts, corporate donations, private foundation grants, and state and federal grants, as well as by admissions, membership fees, and merchandise sales. All of the Museum’s buildings are owned by the City of Philadelphia.
On March 30, 2017 the Museum officially broke ground on a new phase of transformation and renewal, supported by a $525 million campaign. A key part of this campaign, the Core Project will create a significant amount of new public space within the footprint of the landmark building and add 23,000 square feet of new gallery space for the display of the collection. Please see our Frank Gehry Master Plan Press Kit for more.
The Museum has had thirteen directors, a position currently occupied by Timothy Rub, The George D. Widener Director and Chief Executive Officer. Other notable directors include Fiske Kimball (served 1925-55) and Anne d’Harnoncourt (served 1982-2008).
The Museum’s seventy-two steps leading up to the East Terrace became famous as the “Rocky Steps” after the release of the 1976 movie starring Sylvester Stallone. Visitors to Philadelphia from around the world race up the steps to recreate the iconic movie scene.
A sculpture of Rocky Balboa created for the film Rocky III in 1980 is situated on the lawn near the bottom of the steps, a work of public art donated by Stallone to the City of Philadelphia. The sculpture was originally placed at the top of the steps before moving to the Spectrum arena (now demolished). Returned to the grounds of the Museum in 2006, the statue has greeted countless visitors ever since.
Stallone has noted that he first visited the Museum when he was eight-years-old. At that time he decided that his favorite work in the collection was Peter Paul Rubens’s Prometheus Bound, which Rubens himself considered to be one of his most important works. Like Rocky, the titan Prometheus in the painting is notable for his exceptionally muscular physique.