Academy Stars

Many of America's greatest artists have been affiliated with PAFA, either as founders, students, faculty, exhibitors, or with a significant body of work in the collection.

Some PAFA stars:

Thomas P. Anshutz (1851-1912)

Thomas Pollock Anshutz was born in Newport, Kentucky. He received his earliest art instruction at the National Academy of Design in New York City in 1871. In 1876 he entered the life class at the Philadelphia Sketch Club, where the teacher was Thomas Eakins. At about the same time he joined the classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts where Christian Schussele and Eakins were the core of the faculty. Anshutz soon became one of Eakins’s best students and by 1881 was an instructor working under the senior artist.

When his mentor was asked to resign as director of the school in 1886, Anshutz sided against Eakins and took his place as head of the life class. After a year of study in Paris in 1892, he resumed his Academy position, exhibiting and teaching there until his death in 1912. Along with Hugh Breckenridge, he formed the Darby School, a summer art school near his home in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania.

Anshutz won numerous art honors during his long career, painting primarily figure compositions and portraits in the manner of Eakins. Among his awards were the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts’ Lippincott Prize and Gold Medal of Honor, both in 1909. After his death in 1912, Anshutz’s oil, The Tanagra, was purchased by his students for the Academy collection.

The Academy Archives houses a collection of papers and photographs relating to Thomas Anshutz.


Cecilia Beaux (1855-1942)

Cecilia Beaux, a native of Philadelphia, received her first instruction in drawing from a former Academy student and distant cousin of her uncle Will Biddle, Catherine Ann Drinker. She continued decorative arts training in 1872 and 1873 sketching plaster geometric forms at the art school of Adolf Van der Wielen and, in 1879, mastering china painting at the National Art Training School with Camille Piton. From 1876 to 1878, Beaux studied briefly and irregularly at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (but avoided working with Thomas Eakins). Her most important Philadelphia arts professor was William Sartain with whom she studied in a private class from 1881 to 1883.

In 1885 Beaux won a prize at the Pennsylvania Academy for a double portrait of her sister and first-born nephew (Les Derniers Jours d'Enfance, 1883-85), and thereafter became a rising star in the Philadelphia art world. Beaux completed her art training in Paris in 1888 and 1889 at the Académie Julian and the Académie Colarossi, and with private study in Concarneau, France.

During her lifetime Beaux was regarded as one of the country's leading portraitists. In 1896, six of her portraits were hung together at the Paris Salon, a distinct honor for an American artist. The Pennsylvania Academy awarded her its Gold Medal in 1898, the Temple Medal in 1900, and the Mary Smith Prize in 1885, 1887, 1891, and 1892.

In 1895, Beaux became the first woman critic at the Academy and headed its portrait classes until 1915. After the first World War, the American government selected Beaux as part of a team commissioned to paint official portraits of Europe’s war heroes. Throughout her career, Beaux lectured and traveled frequently. Following her success at the Carnegie Art Institute in 1899, when her Mother and Daughter was awarded a first class gold medal, William Merritt Chase pronounced Beaux "the greatest woman painter of modern times."

As her reputation grew, Beaux moved her work to studios in New York City and her summer home at Gloucester, Massachusetts, "Green Alley." Her productivity declined sharply in later years with the onset of cataracts, and a hip injury in 1924. Her autobiography, Background with Figures, was published in 1930. Beaux died at Green Alley in 1942.

The Academy Archives houses a collection of papers and photographs relating to Cecilia Beaux.


Hugh H. Breckenridge, "Tree of Life" (detail)
Hugh H. Breckenridge (1870-1937)

Hugh H. Breckenridge was an artist long associated with the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He was born in Virginia in 1870, and in 1887 at age seventeen came to Philadelphia to study at the Academy, where he subsequently won the Academy’s European Travel Scholarship in 1892. After studying in Paris, he returned to Philadelphia and acquired his first teaching position at the Springside School. Shortly thereafter, in 1894, he became an instructor at the Academy where he would teach for over forty years. He died at age sixty-seven while still on the faculty.

Breckenridge’s varied body of work combined income-producing works of skillful academic realism, primarily in portraiture, with increasingly bold and expressive compositions that led him from impressionism to his late-career abstractions. Along with Henry McCarter, and the younger artist Arthur B. Carles, Breckenridge was one of three Academy instructors who brought a modernist spirit to the school in the early twentieth century. He exhibited extensively in the Academy annuals, was given one-man shows in 1904 and 1934, and was awarded the Academy Gold Medal of Honor in 1919.

Breckenridge is also well known for conducting summer art schools, where he influenced many hundreds of students. From 1900 to 1918 he and Thomas Anshutz ran the Darby School of Painting in and around Fort Washington, Pennsylvania. His final and much loved teaching venue was his Breckenridge School of Painting, in the art colony of East Gloucester on the Massachusetts coast. Opened in 1920, Breckenridge was its sole teacher, articulate, considerate, and by all accounts adored by his students right up to his death in 1937.


Alexander Stirling Calder (1870-1945)

Alexander Stirling Calder was the son of the Scottish–born sculptor Alexander Milne Calder (1846-1923), and the father of Alexander Calder (1898-1976, the originator of the mobile). The father’s chief legacy is the elaborate sculptural decoration of Philadelphia‘s City Hall in which he was assisted by his young son.

Born in Philadelphia, Calder attended local public schools and harbored an early love for theatre. He followed in his father’s footsteps by enrolling at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, in 1885. A prodigious talent, the seventeen-year old Calder had two portrait heads accepted for the 57th annual exhibition of the Pennsylvania Academy in 1887. Throughout his career, Calder continued to exhibit at the Academy. He participated in another twenty-five annuals before his death in 1945.

Calder traveled to Europe in 1889 and 1890 with classmates from the Academy. In Paris they joined another contingent of Academy students including Charles Grafly and Robert Henri. Back in Philadelphia in 1892, Calder plunged into his career as a professional artist. His first major commission, won in competition, was a bronze statute of the Philadelphia surgeon, Dr. Samuel Gross. In 1897 he began work on twelve large cast-stone statues depicting renowned Presbyterians for the façade of the Witherspoon Building in Philadelphia. From 1900 to 1905 Calder was an instructor of modeling at the School of Industrial Design of the Pennsylvania Museum.

In 1906 Calder contracted tuberculosis. Convalescing in California, he executed sculptures which can be seen today at the California Institute of Technology. In 1910, with his health restored, he moved back east, to Croton-on-Hudson, New York. In 1912 he began work on sculptures for the Panama Pacific International Exposition to be held in San Francisco in 1915. Calder took a studio in the famous Tenth Street Studio building in New York, and with several assistants, began to create the models for the exposition sculptures. He was primarily responsible for the successful completion of the work and was awarded a medal for his figurative groups.

From 1918 to 1922, Calder taught modeling at the Art Students League in New York. About this time, the first manifestations of modernism became apparent in his work. His relief of George Washington, flanked by Wisdom and Justice, for the War Memorial Arch in Washington Square in New York displays a new stylization and a tendency toward abstraction. By 1920 these aspects had become readily apparent. They can be seen in Calder’s three reclining river personifications for the Swann Memorial Fountain in Philadelphia’s Logan Circle. The Shakespeare Memorial, Calder’s last major monument, was installed on Logan Circle in 1932.


Arthur B. Carles (1882-1952)

A life-long Philadelphian, Arthur B. Carles studied at the Pennsylvania Academy from 1903 to 1907, winning the prestigious Cresson Travel Scholarship in 1905 and again in 1907. After travel in Europe and extended stays in France, he returned to the United States thoroughly imbued with the modernist aesthetic of Henri Matisse and the circle of artists around Gertrude and Leo Stein. While in France Carles met Edward Steichen. Through him he was introduced to the New York photographer and gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz, who became his staunch supporter and collaborator in promulgating advanced ideas in the fine arts.

During the period from 1910 to the late 1930s Carles was a key figure in Philadelphia's art world and its avant-garde intellectual scene. His vivid painting ranged over the stylistic gamut from expressionism to cubism to abstraction. Often in financial distress and selling relatively few works in his life, he battled alcoholism and depression. After a fall and partial stroke in 1941, he never painted again, living in a convalescent home until his death in 1952. Carles taught painting classes at the Pennsylvania Academy from 1917 to 1925, where he influenced many local modernists such as Morris Blackburn, Saul Schary, Jane Piper, and Quita Brodhead.

Carles was also instrumental in organizing three vital exhibitions of modern art at the Academy. In 1920 he assisted Alfred Stieglitz and Maurius de Zayas in mounting the Loan Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings by Representative Modern Masters, which featured work by European artists such as Matisse and Picasso. The following year, he co-curated the landmark Exhibition of American Drawings and Paintings Showing the Later Tendencies in Art, featuring scores of American modernists. In addition, in 1923, he assisted and advised Albert C. Barnes with the exhibition of Barnes's collection at the Academy. Carles was the subject of one-man exhibitions at the Pennsylvania Academy in 1940, 1953, 1966, and 1983, and at the Woodmere Art Museum in 2001. The Academy collection contains eleven paintings and over forty prints by Arthur B. Carles, as well as a large collection of his personal papers.


Mary Cassatt (1844-1926)

The Pittsburgh-born, Philadelphia-raised Mary Cassatt attended the Pennsylvania Academy in 1860 and again in 1862 before traveling to Europe for further study. Her early alliance with the French impressionists — she was the only American to exhibit with the group — led to her reputation, in the early parts of this century, as one of the country’s most important artists. A talented painter, pastellist and printmaker, Cassatt occupies a unique place in the history of American art.

The increasing number of women students at the Academy who embraced the impressionist mode after 1900 surely was due to Cassatt’s important precedent. Her work, usually loaned by private collectors, appeared frequently at the institution’s annual exhibitions between 1876 and 1920. The Academy awarded her its Medal of Honor in 1914 for her lifetime of artistic achievement. By this time, Cassatt’s influence had spread well beyond Philadelphia’s women artists to American figure painters in general. Her pervasive impact on the popular acceptance of impressionism in America derived as much from her artistic production as from her critical role as art advisor to private collectors and nascent public museums.


Thomas Eakins (1844-1916)

Thomas Eakins was a student at the Pennsylvania Academy from 1862 to 1864. He was a member of the faculty of the Academy from 1876 through 1886, and Director of the School in the last three years of that period.

Eakins's art was closely associated with Philadelphia, where he spent his entire life, except for four years abroad, living at 1729 Mount Vernon Street. A consistent and uncompromising realist, he drew the material for his art almost completely from the life of his community. Eakins's mind was an unusual combination of artistic and scientific qualities, interested more in mathematics, optics, and anatomy than in aesthetics, at least consciously. While a student of the Pennsylvania Academy he also took courses at Jefferson Medical College, specializing in anatomy. In Paris from 1866 to 1869 he went through the severe academic discipline of the Ecole des Beaux Arts, founded on a rigorous study of the nude. A visit to Spain in 1870 introduced him to the great realistic art of Velasquez and Ribera, who with Rembrandt, became his greatest artistic inspirations.

On his return to America in 1870 he began at once to paint with a realism that was almost primitive in its direct relation to actuality, but with a technical mastery based on his years of study.

Eakins was a born teacher, and when the Pennsylvania Academy opened its new building in 1876 he volunteered to take over the life classes, and in 1882 was appointed Director of the School. From the first he introduced new methods, discarding the old, long apprenticeship in drawing from the antique and basing the whole curriculum on thorough study of the nude. Anatomy was stressed, a dissecting room started in the school, and the students were encouraged to paint from the very beginning. Under his directorship the school became one of the most progressive and successful in America. His dismissal in 1886 was caused in part by his overemphasis on the use of the nude model. His most devoted students founded the Art Students’ League of Philadelphia, which he taught for six or seven years without pay.

In middle life Eakins abandoned the genre scenes of his earlier years and concentrated on portraiture. While under-appreciated during his lifetime and for many decades thereafter, he is now ranked among the greatest of American painters.

(Adapted from Lloyd Goodrich's appreciation of Thomas Eakins in the catalogue of The One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary Exhibition, PAFA, 1955).

In 1985 the Academy purchased a landmark collection of art, manuscripts and photographs relating to Thomas Eakins. The collection has revolutionized the study of the artist and has been featured in several Academy publications.


Daniel Garber (1880-1958)

After his youth and early art education in the mid-west, Daniel Garber settled in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where he painted light-filled landscapes and figure compositions in the impressionist style for over four decades. From 1899 to 1905 he studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, winning the Cresson Travel Scholarship in 1905 and using the funds to begin a two-year sojourn in Europe. Returning to the New Hope and Lambertville area, he became one of the leading figures in the group of artists who became known as the Pennsylvania Impressionists. His landscapes usually featured sunlight effects, painted almost completely out of doors. Wooded hillsides seen from a distance and the huge Lambertville quarry were his favorite subjects. Garber was also an accomplished etcher producing scores of simple, delicate prints.

Garber taught at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts for forty-two years, influencing scores of students with his straightforward teaching methods and gentle demeanor. In 1909, when he was not yet thirty, Garber was awarded the prestigious Hallgarten Prize from the National Academy of Design, and in 1919 he won the Temple Gold Medal from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. His work was regularly accepted into the major American juried exhibitions, winning numerous prizes and finding places in both private collections and museums. The Pennsylvania Academy owns twelve oils and over forty etchings by Daniel Garber. In 2007 the artist’s descendants donated an important collection of Garber’s personal papers, art registers, and clipping scrapbooks to the Academy archives.


William Glackens (1870-1938)

William Glackens, a native Philadelphian, began working as a reporter-illustrator for several newspapers in the city in 1891, shortly after graduating from Central High School. In 1892 he began a two-year period of study at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, attending classes in the evening.

After a trip to Europe in 1895-96, Glackens settled permanently in New York, where he continued his successful career as an illustrator. In 1898 he produced his last major series of illustrations, created on the spot during the battles of the Spanish-American War in Cuba. Throughout the 1890s Glackens had been increasingly interested in painting, and had exhibited steadily at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts since 1894. His earliest paintings were strongly influenced by the French master Edouard Manet, and the American vogue for Spanish art. After his second European trip in 1906, he brightened his color palette, depicting livelier scenes and observing the life of the streets with a reporter’s accuracy.

Glackens had met the painter-illustrators George Luks and Everett Shin while working in Philadelphia in the 1890s, and fellow-Academy student Robert Henri in 1892. In 1908 these four men joined with John Sloan, and three others (Maurice Prendergast, Arthur B. Davies and Ernest Lawson) in a group exhibition at Macbeth Gallery in New York. The exhibition of the Eight became a landmark event in twentieth-century American art. Their work was at once vilified by the conservative critics for the earthy street scenes and praised by the avant garde for their modern sentiments.

Around 1910 Glackens renewed his friendship with Albert C. Barnes of Merion, Pennsylvania, with whom he attended high school. Barnes soon relied heavily on Glackens’s advice and European contacts in acquiring modern French work, especially that of Pierre Renoir. On his first buying trip in 1912 Glackens was impressed with the paintings of Henri Matisse, and subsequently he urged Barnes to purchase work by Matisse and other moderns. Barnes’s passion for the work of Renoir in turn influenced Glackens, whose style was strongly influenced by that artist after 1912. During the last twenty-five years of his life Glackens divided his time between New York and Paris, winning the French Grand Prix award in 1937, and earning numerous prizes in American exhibitions.

The Academy owns several paintings and a significant collection of sketchbooks by William Glackens.


Charles Grafly (1862-1929)

Sculptor Charles Grafly began his career as an apprentice stone-cutter in his native Philadelphia at the age of seventeen. A few years later, he studied drawing at the Spring Garden Institute in Philadelphia, and from 1883 through 1888 was enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, studying most of that time under Thomas Eakins. He then studied at the Academie Julian in Paris, winning his earliest recognition in the Paris Salon.

Upon his return, Grafly taught for a short time at Drexel Institute. He was appointed an instructor at the Academy in 1892, a post he held for the remainder of his life. In addition, he had private pupils in the studio of his Massachusetts summer home, and after 1917 was a faculty member of the school of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Grafly executed many commissions for portrait busts and memorials during his career, and also was known for allegorical figure compositions. He exhibited internationally and was awarded numerous major prizes and honors. He stands as Philadelphia’s most famous sculptor in the academic tradition. Yet his work is infused with lively Rodinesque surface treatment and often depicts subjects of a more emotional nature than most of his academic contemporaries. The Academy owns twenty examples of Grafly’s work.


Henry McCarter, "Old Grindstone" (detail)
Henry McCarter (1864-1942)

One of the earliest Academy faculty members to reflect a modernist sensibility, Henry McCarter was affiliated with the Pennsylvania Academy for almost forty-five years. As an Academy student from 1879 to 1882, he studied under Thomas Eakins, but Eakins’s emphasis on realism alienated the dreamy McCarter, whose interests were already leaning toward illustration. More influential was McCarter’s five-year stay in Paris in the late 1880s where he worked with such artists as Pierre Puvis de Chavannes and Léon Bonnat, and apprenticed in the lithography workshop of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

By 1895 McCarter had established himself in New York and commenced a long and successful career as an illustrator. About 1900, McCarter was asked by Academy Director Harrison Morris to teach an illustration class. He moved back to Philadelphia and remained as an instructor until his death in 1942.

McCarter began to work more frequently in oil painting around 1920, concentrating on landscapes and flower studies. His work is characterized by beautiful draftsmanship, vibrant colors, and a love of the fantastic. Many of McCarter’s foremost artistic concerns — experimentation with nonliteral color, attention to light effects, and a desire to visually represent sound — are evidence of his modernist mindset. His openness to new ideas influenced his students, who included the important American modernists Arthur B. Carles and Charles Demuth.


Violet Oakley (1874-1961)

Violet Oakley — illustrator, muralist, writer, and pacifist — played a prominent role in the artistic life of Philadelphia for almost half a century. She was affiliated with the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in many ways: as a student in 1895 and 1896; as a faculty member from 1912 to 1917; as a frequent exhibitor between 1896 and 1959; as well as a founding member of the alumni Fellowship, and one of its vice-presidents from 1912 to 1918 and from 1941 to 1961.

Oakley’s illustrations for books, magazines and poems appeared in many popular publications. Her work in that field was strongly influenced by Howard Pyle, her illustration teacher at Drexel University known for his chivalric subjects. Oakley was also well known in her day as a mural painter. She executed three large mural cycles for the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg between 1902 and 1922, as well as commissions for several churches and schools in the Philadelphia area.

Oakley was a co-founder of several Philadelphia cultural organizations, including the Plastic Club, the Art Alliance, the Philadelphia Water Color Club, and the Plays and Players Little Theater. From 1925 through the 1940s, the well-connected Oakley was a popular speaker at educational institutions, civic groups, and craft guilds, discoursing on such topics as “The Influence of Art on the Study of History” and “Art as a Stimulus to Civic Righteousness.” She was internationally known as a pacifist, a proponent of disarmament, and a supporter of the League of Nations. Remaining active until her death, she started the “Great Women of the Bible” mural for the First Presbyterian Church of Germantown when she was over seventy years old.

When Oakley died in 1961, the Violet Oakley Memorial Foundation was established to administer her large estate and to provide for her companion, Edith Emerson. After the major works and manuscripts were distributed, the remainder of the estate — consisting of oil sketches, pastels, studies for illustrations, and illuminated books — was given to the Academy.


Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966)

Maxfield Parrish was born into Philadelphia's Quaker elite. His was a culturally sophisticated home environment in which he learned to sketch under his artist-father, Stephen Parrish, whom he later credited as his most important teacher. A European trip in his early teens introduced him to medieval and renaissance imagery, all of which remained with him and appeared in mature work.

He attended Haverford College for two years during which time he was constantly sketching, intending to pursue an architecture career. He enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1892 and stayed two and a half years, perhaps drawn by the strong program in drawing. His Academy years gave Parrish a familiarity with the classical vocabulary of the human form, an understanding of traditional styles and techniques, and a general broadening of his artistic horizons.

In 1894 he began a professional career as an illustrator, probably encouraged by Howard Pyle. His work was immediately sought after, and success came quickly with frequent commissions from national magazines such as Harper’s Weekly and Scribner’s. An example of this type of work is Princess Parizade in the Academy collection.

In the 1890s and early 1900s, the so-called Golden Age of illustration, the artist developed his appreciation for popular art forms which were reflected in delightful images such as the Academy’s Old King Cole, and images for many of the Mother Goose stories, all of which have become icons of American graphic art. The 1920s were a decade of artistic experimentation in which Parrish reached the pinnacle of fame and fortune with his fantastical images of “exotic” and erotic innocence. By 1930 he was arguably the most sought-after illustrator in the world.

Parrish lived in Plainfield, New Hampshire from 1898 until his death and was a major figure in the artists’ colony in and around the town of Cornish. Parrish’s association with the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts continued for over three decades with his entries in the institution’s annual exhibitions. And in 2001 his huge mosaic masterpiece, Dream Garden (1916) was saved from possible sale, becoming a part of the Academy collection through the generosity of the Pew Memorial Trust.

Coming of age in an art world shaped by sophisticated technologies and a heightened commercial awareness, Parrish was deeply committed to the popularization and democratization of art. As a result, he became one of America’s first truly “public” artists, producing work for a national rather than regional audience.


Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827)

A native of Maryland, Peale settled in Philadelphia in 1778, after three years of art study in London under Benjamin West, and several years in the Continental Army. A man of wide accomplishments and interests, he was an inventor, a natural scientist and a painter. In 1782 he opened a small picture gallery, and by 1786 his much larger Peale’s Museum also housed the most important natural history museum in the colonies.

His primary interest as a painter was portraiture, the surest way to earn a living as an artist in eighteenth-century America. During his prolific career he painted hundreds of statesmen, revolutionary war heroes, wealthy land owners and their families, as well as scientists and intellectuals. He also painted over seventeen self-portraits, many of which were given to his numerous children as wedding presents. The most famous of the self-portraits, The Artist in His Museum, of 1822, has become an icon of American art and one of the Academy’s signature paintings. In it, Peale parts a curtain, inviting the viewer to enter his museum of portraits and natural history specimens.

Peale taught few students other than his children, three of whom became artists. For almost ten years, from 1796 to about 1804, he painted infrequently, devoting himself to his museum and to natural history studies, to furthering the careers of his artist-sons, Rembrandt and Raphaelle, and to the establishment of a public art institution in Philadelphia. In 1805 Peale was the leading figure in the foundation of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, along with his son, Rembrandt, and the sculptor William Rush. Until his death in 1827 at the age of eighty-five, he was an active board member and exhibitor at the Academy, as well as a newly inspired and brilliant portraitist. The Academy collection contains seventeen portraits by Charles Willson Peale.


Rembrandt Peale (1778-1860)

Rembrandt Peale, the second son of Academy founder Charles Willson Peale, began his art study under his father, and at the age of twenty-four commenced a year of study under Benjamin West at the Royal Academy in London. He returned to America in 1803 and settled in Philadelphia where he painted portraits of distinguished citizens for his father’s museum and as independent commissions.

In 1805 he was one of three artists among the seventy-one founders of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He continued to be involved in the affairs of the institution until his death. From 1808 to 1810 he was in Paris, studying French painting styles and executing portraits of statesman and famous artists, including Jacques Louis David and Jean Antoine Houdon. After his exposure to the grand manner of French art, he returned to America hoping to achieve fame and expand his repertoire by painting large historical compositions. In 1820, his ambitious work The Court of Death (Detroit Institute of Arts) became his most successful historical painting when it earned almost ten thousand dollars while on a multi-city tour.

Rembrandt Peale had been a precocious fourteen-year-old when, in 1795, he painted President George Washington, from life, in Philadelphia. In 1823 he commenced his first idealized portrait of Washington, the so-called Pater Patriae type, which was a composite of his earlier portrait and others by his father and Gilbert Stuart. Over the course of the next thirty-five years Peale created more than eighty versions of this work, earning a significant sum in the process.

After his last trip to Europe, in 1823, he settled in Philadelphia, and spent his time producing copies of his Washington image and lecturing. He also published several books on art or art practice, and taught drawing at Central High School for a few years. The Academy collection contains nineteen portraits by Rembrandt Peale.


William Rush (1756-1833)

William Rush was born in Philadelphia and as a child showed talent for carving and drawing. Apprenticed in his early teens to a skilled carver, he quickly outshone his teacher. Around 1774 Rush had his own business carving ornaments for ships. After naval service during the American Revolution, he began carving full figureheads and other ornamentation for merchant vessels. Rush usually carved American subjects, such as Indians or heroes like George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. His figureheads were admired at home and abroad for their masterful carving and poses.

On December 29, 1794, Rush joined a group of forty artists, including Charles Willson Peale, to organize an art academy, the Columbianum, a forerunner of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. In 1801 Rush helped in the reconstruction of a mastodon skeleton for Peale’s natural history museum by carving missing bones. In 1805 he was one of three artists to sign the founding charter of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and served on the board until his death in 1833.

When the Philadelphia ship building industry faded after 1807, Rush turned to other interests. In 1808, he carved his first architectural statues, Comedy and Tragedy (Philadelphia Museum of Art) for the Chestnut Street Theatre. His Eagle (Academy collection) is a tour-de force of wood carving. He served on the City Council’s Watering Committee, which built a civic waterworks at Philadelphia‘s Center Square, and in 1809 he carved the Allegory of the Schuylkill River, a fountain of a woman and bittern for its grounds.

In 1801 the Society of Artists (Philadelphia) elected Rush its first president and in 1811 appointed him professor of sculpture. That year he began exhibiting sculpture at the Pennsylvania Academy, and in 1813 he supervised the Academy’s first class using live models.

Rush was one of the earliest American sculptors to create busts of soldiers, statesmen, and scientists for the libraries of middle-class gentlemen, six of which are in the Academy collection. In 1815 he carved his most ambitious portrait, a full-length figure of George Washington (Independence Hall, Philadelphia). All his wooden sculptures were painted white to simulate antique marbles, thereby anticipating the neo-classical style that was soon to prevail in America. In 1822 he depicted himself, as if emerging from a pine tree knot, in a rare terracotta work (one of eight Rush works in the Academy’s collection). William Rush never went abroad for study or travel and rarely left Philadelphia, but he emerged as an extremely gifted craftsman and self-taught artist whose career flourished in a critical period in American history.


The Sartain family: PAFA’s most famous artistic dynasty

John Sartain (1808-1897) was the patriarch of one of Philadelphia's most famous and important artistic dynasties. He was also one of the Academy's most important and influential Board members, serving the institution from 1855 to 1877. He exerted a profound influence on both the design of our building and on the curriculum of the school. His place in Philadelphia's artistic history would be assured for these events alone, not to mention his reputation as an engraver, painter and designer. Trained in England, he arrived in the United States in 1830. His popular reproductive engravings prompted a revival of mezzotint engraving in this country. He also served as art director of the 1876 Centennial Exposition. His autobiography, Reminiscences of a Very Old Man, 1808-1897, was published posthumously. The Academy houses several thousand engravings from Sartain’s hand.

Four of his eight children became artists. Two of these in particular are important to Academy history because of their close friendships with Thomas Eakins. Eakins, who already knew John Sartain through his father's circle of contacts, went to high school with William Sartain (1843-1924), and attended classes with him at the Academy in the early 1860's. They traveled in Europe together in the summer of 1868, and remained in contact until the end of their lives. William Sartain's career as a painter was long and successful.

William's sister, Emily (1841-1927), was also close to Eakins, and there may have been a romantic attachment between them. Emily studied at the Academy from 1868 to 1870 and in Paris from 1872 to 1876, where she was a close friend of Mary Cassatt. She painted portraits and genre scenes and pursued a successful career as a mezzotint engraver. She headed the Philadelphia School of Design for Women from 1886 to 1919.

The Academy Archives houses a collection of papers and photographs relating to the Sartain family.


John Sloan (1871-1951)

John Sloan, whose father was an amateur painter, was born in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, and moved to Philadelphia with his family in 1876. Leaving formal schooling at Central High School at age sixteen, he began working for a book and print dealer and also designed cards and novelties. To expand his skills, he taught himself the art of etching while still in his teens.

In 1892, at the age of twenty-one, he secured employment as a newspaper illustrator, and rented a studio which became a gathering place for his growing number of artist-friends. In his professional milieu he met Everett Shinn, Robert Henri, George Luks and William Glackens, all of whom would remain close associates both personally and professionally for many years. Also in 1892, he began his formal art study at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, attending drawing and painting courses in a random fashion until the end of 1894. In 1897, Sloan and Glackens were two of about a dozen students who executed murals for the Academy lecture room.

As early as 1897 Sloan’s close friend, Robert Henri, was urging him to take up oil painting as a means of expression. He encouraged Sloan to observe the world around him and to paint scenes of daily life and portraits of friends and family. He also encouraged him to travel in Europe, but Sloan remained convinced that his life and career should be firmly rooted in observation of life in America, and he never left the country. His works are usually observations of some aspect of urban life painted in a loose and rich style, using a dark and relatively limited palette. In 1900, he had a work accepted into a national exhibition and continued to exhibit in such venues for many decades. Sales of his work at these events were generally weak, and he supplemented his income with teaching at the Art Students League of New York and with additional illustration work. He is also known for several suites of etchings of New York City life.

Throughout his life Sloan was an energetic organizer of exhibitions and was active in various art organizations. In 1908, out of frustration at rejection by the academic, establishment art world, he and Robert Henri organized an exhibition of work by themselves and six other artists at the Macbeth Gallery in New York. Dubbed “the Eight,” and the subject of much press notoriety, the art they showed was derided as being too earthy, as well as vulgar and lacking in conventional beauty. Even though they never exhibited together again, the Eight’s exhibition became a landmark event in American art history and spawned a school of American realism which came to be known as the “Ashcan school.”


Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937)

Henry O. Tanner, a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was the son of an Episcopal cleric. At age 21, after the family had relocated to Philadelphia, he became one of the first African Americans to attend the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Tanner studied there with Thomas Eakins and Thomas Hovenden between 1880 and 1882. Finding little success in Philadelphia after his Academy studies, he moved to Atlanta, and with the support of a group of benefactors was able to depart for Paris in 1891. He believed that in France he would be judged for his talent, rather than by the color of his skin, and resided in Paris for the remainder of his life.

Early in his career Tanner enjoyed the patronage of the Philadelphia merchant, John Wanamaker, who, along with several Academy directors, recognized his talent and supported him in various ways. In 1897, after a brief exploration of African-American subject matter, Tanner traveled to Palestine under the patronage of Wanamaker’s son, Rodman, and there he discovered the scenery and subjects that would become his trademark. Although he garnered various honors and awards during his life, his many biblical paintings, such as the Academy’s Christ and Nicodemus, brought him only moderate financial success.


Benjamin West (1738-1820)

The first American-born artist to receive recognition outside of the Colonies, Benjamin West was born in 1738 in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. Legend has it that he was taught the basics of painting and color mixing by local Native Americans — probably a story perpetuated by West himself, a charismatic figure not above a little self-invention to generate interest. He had painted commissioned portraits by age 13.

At age 17, West was invited to Benjamin Franklin’s College of Philadelphia as an honorary student. At age 21, having already worked professionally as a painter for a few years, West went to Rome, financed by wealthy businessmen in Philadelphia and New York who were eager to cultivate the blossoming culture in the Colonies. West had been greatly frustrated by the limitations within America, and aspired to become a historical painter, regarded as the highest form of art, saying the portraiture favored by the American colonists was an “indiscriminate waste of genius.” Not surprisingly, once away from the Colonies, the ambitious West never returned.

West spent three years in Italy, copying from the Renaissance and Baroque masters. Settling in London, West’s charisma and confidence won over almost everyone he met, and he soon gained entrée into the inner circles of England’s preeminent artists. West won great acclaim for such historical works as Agrippina Landing at Brundisium with the Ashes of Germanicus (1767), The Death of General Wolfe (1770), Penn’s Treaty with the Indians (1771). The latter two were considered controversial and revolutionary, as they defied convention by showing a recent historical event rather than an allegory from the Classical era. West’s talent and charm impressed no less a person than King George III, and eventually West realized his greatest ambition when he became the royal history painter. West helped to found the Royal Academy in London, and was elected its second president in 1792.

Considering his entire career as a mature artist was spent in England, West’s most significant contribution to American art was his role as teacher. Many of America's most significant artists of the post-colonial era trained with him, and West was hailed for his generosity and kindness, providing not only formal training but also a greater sense of scope and sophistication. Artists who trained with West include Charles Willson Peale, John Trumbull, Ralph Earl, Washington Allston, Gilbert Stuart, Rembrandt Peale, Thomas Sully, and Samuel F. B. Morse.

West was elected the first honorary member of the Pennsylvania Academy in 1805, the year of its founding. Although an expatriate, West was the most famous American artist at the time. His later work has been referred to as a precursor to the Romantic movement, and two epic-scaled examples of such works, Christ Rejected (1814) and Death on the Pale Horse (1817), can be seen at the Academy.