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Summary

We are Philadelphia’s art museum. A landmark building. A world-renowned collection. A place that welcomes everyone. We bring the arts to life, inspiring visitors—through scholarly study and creative play—to discover the spirit of imagination that lies in everyone. We connect people with the arts in rich and varied ways, making the experience of the Museum surprising, lively, and always memorable. We are committed to inviting visitors to see the world—and themselves—anew through the beauty and expressive power of the arts.

FAQ

What are the origins of the Museum and its collections?

What fields of art does the Museum collect?

What are some of the most notable works in the collection?

What are some of the most distinctive spaces of the Museum?

What buildings comprise the Philadelphia Museum of Art?

What is the Frank Gehry Master Plan for the Philadelphia Museum of Art?

How many directors have served the Philadelphia Museum of Art?

What can I expect from a visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art?

What role do the Rocky Steps play in the Museum’s story?

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What are the origins of the Museum and its collections?

The Philadelphia Museum of Art began as a legacy of the nation’s great Centennial Exhibition of 1876. In 1877, it 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 outgrew 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, and Medary, the Museum’s Main Building opened its doors on March 1928, and saw an attendance record of one million visitors in its first year.

What fields of art does the Museum collect?

The Museum’s holdings include over 240,000 works of art in collections embracing American Art, Costume & Textiles, East Asian Art, European Decorative Art, European Painting before 1900, South Asian Art, Contemporary, and Prints, Drawings and Photographs. The Museum does not contain Egyptian or Roman art, and little Pre-Columbian art; it has maintained a longstanding agreement with the University of Pennsylvania in which its Penn Museum collections of Chinese porcelain came to the Museum in exchange for the Museum’s Egyptian, Roman, and many Pre-Columbian works.

What are some of the most notable works in the collection?

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is filled with many notable works. Some of the most talked about are:

The Annunciation

American painter Henry Ossawa Tanner painted The Annunciation after a trip to Egypt and Palestine in 1897, and is the first of Tanner’s work to enter an American museum. Specializing in religious subjects, Tanner wanted to experience the people, culture, architecture and light of the Holy Land, creating this unconventional image of the moment when Gabriel announces to Mary that she will bear the Son of God. (Gallery 111, American Art, first floor)

Dancing Ganesha

Located in the Museum’s newly reinvented South Asian galleries, Dancing Ganesha represents the most widely worshiped Hindu god, Ganesha. The source of all success and the Lord of Obstacles, Ganesha dates back to the Medieval Period and originally adorned an exterior wall of a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva.

(Gallery 231, Asian Art, second floor)

Grace Kelly’s Wedding Dress

Philadelphia native and movie actress wore this gown for her wedding 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. (Currently not on view)

Gross Clinic

The Gross Clinic is recognized as one of the great American paintings of the nineteenth century. Philadelphia native Thomas Eakins, young and little-known at the time, painted it specifically for Philadelphia’s 1876 Centennial Exhibition, intending to showcase his talents as an artist and honor the scientific achievements of his native Philadelphia. The city’s world-famous surgeon and teacher Dr. Samuel Gross is his subject, the scene set in Jefferson Medical College’s surgical amphitheater. Eakins himself a student at Jefferson and of Gross, can be seen in the painting. The painting was not shown in the Centennial’s Fine Arts pavilion because it was judged to be too brutal; instead it hung in a medical building on the fairgrounds. Today it is jointly owned by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. (Gallery 111, American Art, first floor)

The Large Bathers

French painter Paul Cézanne’s lifelong exploration of the time-honored theme of nudes in a landscape produced this painting, The Large Bathers, the largest, last, and most ambitious work of this exploration. Cézanne painted three of these, and though they differ from one another, the one owned by the Museum, perhaps because of its unfinished state, is the most exalted and serene. (Gallery 164, European Art 1850-1900, first floor)

Prometheus Bound

Prometheus Bound (21), which painter Peter Paul Rubens considered one of his most important works, represents the virtuoso artist at the height of his powers. A collaboration, Rubens and the famed animal and still-life painter Frans Snyders, who contributed the eagle, rendered the brutal tale of Prometheus with corresponding violence. (Gallery 258, European Art 1500-1850, second floor)

Saint Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata

Saint Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata (1) was painted by Jan van Eyck, the most celebrated painter in Northern Europe during the fifteenth century. Known for his nearly miraculous ability to depict observed reality with a refinement verging on the microscopic, van Eyck shows this attention to detail in this pocket-sized painting. (Gallery 219, European Art 1100-1500, second floor)

Staircase Group (Portrait of Raphaelle Peale and Titian Ramsay Peale I)

Charles Wilson Peale executed Staircase Groupto demonstrate that he was one of Philadelphia’s preeminent artists. The painting’s high degree of detail and finish show that it was intended to be a trompe l’oeil “deception”. To enhance the illusion, Peale installed the painting within a doorframe in his studio, with a real step in front. (Gallery 107, American Art, first floor)

Sunflowers

While he waited for Paul Gauguin to join him in Arles in 1888, Vincent van Gogh painted five decorative still lifes of sunflowers in simple earthenware jugs, at least two of which decorated Gauguin’s bedroom. Whether the Museum’s Sunflowers precedes Gaugin’s visit or is one of the two replicas Van Gogh painted the following year, it is as vital and vivid in personality as the artist who painted them. (Gallery 161, European Art 1850-1900, first floor)

The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths (Window or Wall Sign)

A founding work in Bruce Nauman’s career, The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths advertises a metaphysical and deeply personal message through the commercial medium of neon as if it were for sale. Creating a contradiction between medium and meaning, Nauman calls for the viewer to participate in determining the validity of its statement.

(Gallery 170, Modern and Contemporary Art, first floor)

Three Musicians

A summation of Pablo Picasso’s exploration of Synthetic Cubism, Three Musiciansrepresents 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. A trio, Picasso is accompanied by his two friends: poet and critic Guillaume Apollinaire and poet Max Jacob.

(Currently not on view)

Wall Street, New York

Wall Street, New York is one of the treasures of some five hundred photographs by Paul Strand in the Museum’s collection. Wall Street illustrates the uneasy relationship between early twentieth-century Americans and their cities. Strand’s early photographs of New York City helped photography move away from the pictorial and toward pure subject.

(Currently not on view)

*Please note: The works of art featured are not always on view. Many works are sensitive to exposure and are rotated frequently.

What are some of the most distinctive spaces of the Museum?

The Philadelphia Museum of Art has many distinctive spaces from galleries dedicated to notable artists to iconic open spaces. Some of the most distinctive are:

Cy Twombly

Completed in 1978 and collectively titled Fifty Days at Illiam (10), Cy Twombly’s “painting in ten parts” is installed in gallery 185 and tells the story of Alexander Pope’s translation of Homer’s Illiad. (Gallery 185, Modern and Contemporary Art, first floor)

Diana

The Museum’s Great Stair Hall stands at the center of the building and acts as a home for Museum special events, programs, and works of art. At the top of the Great Stair Hall stands Diana (11), arguably the best-known work of American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Originally installed in 1893 on the tower of New York City’s Madison Square Garden to serve as a weather vane, the statue was adopted by the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1932. In 2013-14, Museum conservators repaired and preserved Diana’s copper structure and restored the sculpture’s original gold leaf finish.

Duchamp

Since the 1950 bequest from Walter and Louise Arensberg, the Museum has been home to the largest and most important collection of Duchamp’s work in the world. Located in galleries 182 and 183, two of his greatest masterpieces, The Large Glass (8) and Étant donnés (9) are permanently on view.

Horse and Man’s Armor

The Museum has a celebrated collection of Arms and Armor, including the Horse and Man’s Armor of Duke Ulrich of Württemberg, for use in the field (20). This armor is the only surviving armor by Wilhelm von Worms, all illustrious armorers in the city of Nuremberg. The Arms and Armor collection itself preserves the earliest complete Nuremberg armors for man and horse, several key works by the foremost armorers of Landshut, and its collection of early Renaissance German armor ranks among the most important outside of Europe.

The “period rooms”, South Asian galleries and Japanese Teahouse

The Museum’s “period rooms”(5) originated due to the work of the Museum’s 5th director, Fiske Kimball, 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” wherein works of art would be installed together in dramatic galleries enhanced with period architectural elements and historical interiors. His approach spurred the “period rooms,” and has continued to inspire the installation of other Museum galleries such as the South Asian galleries (6) and the Japanese Teahouse (7).

*Please note: The works of art featured are not always on view. Many works are sensitive to exposure and are rotated frequently.

What buildings comprise the Philadelphia Museum of Art?

The neoclassical building at the top of Benjamin Franklin Parkway is the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Main Building, housing many of the Museum’s permanent collections as well as special exhibition spaces. Just across from the Main Building on Pennsylvania Avenue is the Museum’s Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building (12) which contains rotating exhibitions, a café, and a library and teacher resource center; it also houses the collections of costume and textiles, prints, drawings and photographs. The Museum administers the Rodin Museum (13), a building that showcases one of the largest collections of works by Auguste Rodin in the world, and two Fairmount Park Historic Houses, Cedar Grove and Mount Pleasant (14). The Philadelphia Museum of Art is a registered Pennsylvania not-for-profit corporation. It is supported by endowments, voluntary gifts, corporate support, private foundation grants, and state and federal grants, as well as from admissions, membership fees, and merchandise sales. All of the Museum’s buildings are owned by the City of Philadelphia.

What is the Frank Gehry Master Plan for the Philadelphia Museum of Art?

Conceptualized by Gehry Partners to dramatically renovate and expand the Museum’s Main Building, the plan adds more than 169,000 square feet of exhibition space to the Museum, and has been designed in phases so that it can be implemented as funds become available. A Facilities Master Plan, Enabling Project, and a Core Project, make up the key phases of the Master Plan. The Core Project, now underway, is taking place entirely within the collect envelope of the Main Building, and is scheduled for completion in 2020. The final phase of the plan, to be completed by the end of the next decade, includes new galleries under the East Terrace.

See Frank Gehry Master Plan FAQs (15) for more information.

How many directors have served the Philadelphia Museum of Art?

The Museum has had 13 directors, a position currently occupied by Timothy Rub, The George D. Widener Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (16). Other notable directors include Fiske Kimball (served 1925-1955) and Anne d’Harnoncourt (served 1982-2008).

What can I expect from a visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art?

Museum hours and admission (22) vary, however every Wednesday after 5 p.m. and the first Sunday of every month, Museum admission is Pay What You Wish (23). A Museum ticket includes admission to all Museum location for two consecutive days from purchase and access to all public tours (24), programs (25) and exhibitions (26) unless noted otherwise.

What role do the Rocky Steps play in the Museum’s story?

Visitors come from around the world to jog up the steps from Eakins Oval to the East Terrace facing the Museum’s East entrance. The Museum’s 72 steps became famous as the “Rocky steps” after the release of the movie starring Sylvester Stallone in 1976.

A sculpture of Rocky Balboa created for the film Rocky III in 1980 is situated 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. 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 an eight-year-old young boy, and at that time decided that his favorite work of art in the collection is Peter Paul Rubens’ Prometheus Bound. Like Rocky, the titan Prometheus is notable in the painting for his exceptionally muscular physique.