Going Global: PAFA Curators Put American Art on the World Stage

Artwork from PAFA’s permanent collection is not only on view at the museum in Philadelphia but in exhibitions across the country and globe. Each year dozens of works are lent to museums that want to highlight American art.

This fall some of PAFA’s most important pieces are traveling to Germany for several shows highlighting the contributions American artists have made to the global art community. Constructing The World: Art and Economy 1919-1939 AND 2008-2018 at the Kunsthalle Mannheim illustrates the economy’s dramatic influence on art and to make global comparisons, demonstrating these in an analysis of two separate eras.

  • Edward Hopper, "Apartment Houses" (1923)
    Edward Hopper, "Apartment Houses" (1923)
  • Cecilia Beaux, "Little Girl" (1887)
    Cecilia Beaux, "Little Girl" (1887)
  • John Vanderlyn, "Ariadne Asleep on the Island of Naxos" (1809-14)
    John Vanderlyn, "Ariadne Asleep on the Island of Naxos" (1809-14)

“It’s looking at art in the time between World War I and World War II, and its really compelling,” said PAFA curator Anna Marley. “You’re looking at images of labor and workers in this very specific moment between the wars. You might not think Germany, the US, and Soviet Union had a lot in common at that time but they actually do.”

Apartment Houses and Mine Disaster focus on the conditions of workers between the two wars.

Marley said Hopper’s Apartment Houses is one of PAFA most requested and important paintings in the permanent collection. It was acquired in 1925 and was most likely bought from Hopper himself. As one of the most iconic American artists, Hopper’s work is highly sought after and Marley is careful to protect Apartment Houses legacy.

“We like to give it to important shows and one of the things we look at is: Will the show not work without it, would it be a loss to the show? And in this case, the museum made the case that it would be a loss to the show to not have it.”

In addition to the Kunsthalle exhibition, PAFA is lending three paintings to the Wallraf museum in Cologne, Germany. Once Upon a Time in America is a survey of American art from 1650 to 1950.

PAFA is contributing Ariadne Asleep on the Isle of Naxos by John Vanderlyn, Little Girl by Cecilia Beaux, and North River by George Bellows. The Vanderlyn painting has a controversial history. It was painted in the early 1800’s and has been a part of PAFA’s permanent collection since 1878.

“Vanderlyn’s Ariadne.., was one of the first nudes ever exhibited in the United States. It’s the kind of painting that’s in every art textbook but isn’t so well known by the general public but it's incredibly important so we’re loaning that,” Marley said. “PAFA was one of the first places it was on exhibit. Even still today we have some school groups who don’t want to see a monumental nude like that.”

Little Girl by Cecilia Beaux is one of more than 90 works PAFA has by the portrait painter. After studying at PAFA in the late 1800s she went on to become the first full-time female professor at the academy.

Not only are pieces of American art history traveling when PAFA loans works around the world, but PAFA’s own history is passed along too.

PAFA’s Masterpieces on the Move has a full list of where our permanent collection is on view this year.