History of Special Exhibitions at PAFA

1805-1870 Part 1
1874-1939: Part 2
1940-1999: Part 3
2000 to present: Part 4


Over more than 200 years, PAFA has mounted well over 1,000 exhibitions. (“Special Exhibitions” constitute a separate series from the two Annual Exhibition series, or the Peale House and Morris Gallery series. Lists of the latter exhibitions are available from the PAFA Archives.)

Special exhibitions are either thematic, or devoted to a single artist or group of artists. The titles on the exhibitions list are derived from surviving catalogues, checklists, invitations, and annual reports. When a catalogue or checklist was issued, an invitation ticket or promotional card was almost always produced as well.

The exhibition list does not include:

  • PAFA's Annual Exhibitions (two series: one for oils and sculptures and one for works on paper), 1811-1969;
  • Fellowship Annuals (PAFA's first alumni organization), held onsite 1940-1969;
  • The Philadelphia Water Color Club members-only annuals, held 1955-1967;
  • work done at the Chester Springs summer campus, 1917-1952;
  • Annual Student Exhibitions (in May of each year, held as early as 1902, but marketed as public exhibitions beginning ca. 1976);
  • the School Gallery at 1301 Cherry Street, 1988-2006; and
  • Gallery 128 at the Hamilton Building, begun 2005.

Selections from the permanent collection have almost always been on display. Exhibitions devoted exclusively to some part of the collection are listed here, primarily after 1940, when the subject or format warranted a special title and/or a catalogue, e.g., thematic displays, works by a single artist, or new acquisitions.

Special exhibition printed matter has been microfilmed by the Archives of American Art through 1939, although the exhibitions list supersedes that on microfilm.

For more information on special exhibitions (or other series) see the Guide to the Archives of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

1805-1870: Part 1

From 1805 to 1870, exhibitions took place in PAFA's first and second buildings on Chestnut Street between 10th and 11th Streets. The original structure burned in 1845. A new building, constructed on the surviving foundations, was used until the property was sold in 1870. PAFA suspended regular operations from 1871 to April 1876, while its new building was under construction.

Throughout most of the 19th century, during periods when the Annual Exhibitions were not occupying most of the galleries, PAFA displayed works of art, on long- or short-term deposit from private owners, alongside its own collection. Catalogues listing both loaned works and PAFA property were issued at intervals, especially between 1838 and 1856, and again from 1876 to 1881. (These catalogues have been included on the exhibitions list.)

1874-1939: Part 2

PAFA's third building at Broad and Cherry Streets provided a great deal more gallery space than the previous facility. The variety and frequency of special exhibitions increased as PAFA’s influence reached its peak. Numerous landmark exhibitions were mounted including those of:

  • the Philadelphia Photographic Salons, 1898-1901;
  • the English Pre-Raphaelites, 1858 and 1892;
  • The Eight, 1908;
  • Later Tendencies in Art, 1921;
  • the Albert C. Barnes Collection, 1923.

In about 1913, exhibitions drawn from the collection began appearing with specific titles and/or themes. These displays are included on the exhibitions list when documented by a ticket, catalogue, or a mention in an annual report.

1940-1999: Part 3

From 1940 to 1960, PAFA's exhibition schedule was dominated by its two Annual Exhibitions, and the "Philadelphia Artists' Gallery," a series of small exhibitions by contemporary local artists which ran from 1946 to 1957. Staffing and financial constraints precluded a more complex program, until the mid-1960s when major exhibitions either organized in-house, or brought in from outside, were regularly supported.

Presentations of the work of living regional artists resumed at PAFA in the School's Peale House Gallery in 1964, and an ambitious schedule of contemporary exhibitions was inaugurated in 1978 with the Morris Gallery Program, a series held in the Broad and Cherry building. (Separate lists are available for these two series.)

Another series of exhibitions was held in the Print Room (1940-47), also known as:

  • the Student Gallery, 1948-50
  • the Little Gallery, 1951-54
  • the History Gallery, 1976-94.

This space on the ground floor of the Historic Landmark Building (now the café) housed PAFA's extensive collection of European prints and drawings. From 1940-54, as many as ten brief, small-scale exhibitions were mounted there each year. The work was either drawn from the print collection, or related to graphic art such as magazine illustration, or produced by students and recent alumni. Virtually no printed matter was issued for these displays, and the complete title lists in each year's annual report are rarely specific. The exhibition list for these years includes only selected Print Room exhibitions.

2000 to present: Part 4

In 2005 PAFA opened the Samuel M. V. Hamilton Building, on the northwest corner of Broad and Cherry Streets. The building provided a new home for the school and administrative offices, as well as several new galleries. The largest of these, the Fisher-Brooks Gallery, was planned as the primary venue for traveling exhibitions.

Other named galleries in the Hamilton Building are:

  • the Women’s Board School Gallery (surrounding the second floor Stairhall)
  • the Tuttleman Sculpture Gallery (second floor front)
  • the Walter and Lenore Annenberg Gallery (second floor, north side).

The Sculpture Study Center houses a permanent display of sculpture from the Academy collection. For exhibitions from 2005 forward, the exhibitions list specifies the locations of exhibitions in the Hamilton building.

The Historic Landmark Furness-Hewitt building houses a permanent display of 19th- and early-20th-c. objects from the permanent collection, along with an occasional special exhibition.