Making American Artists: Stories from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 1776–1976

Exhibition Info
Samuel M.V. Hamilton Building
Curated by
Dr. Anna Marley, Kenneth R. Woodcock Curator of Historical American Art
Prior Reinhardt, Curatorial Administration Support
This exhibition presents the most iconic works in PAFA's collection alongside pieces by traditionally underrepresented artists to pose questions about what it meant to be an American artist when the institution was founded and what it meant to be an American artist by the late-twentieth century.

Making American Artists: Stories from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 1776–1976 will present over one hundred of the most acclaimed and recognizable works of American art, which have played a demonstrable role in shaping conversations about the nation’s history and identity. The exhibition offers new narratives of the history of American art, embracing stories about women artists, LGBTQ+ artists, and artists of color within a visual and thematic structure that also features works traditionally associated with the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. When Charles Willson Peale founded PAFA with the sculptor William Rush in 1805, they created an institution that was devoted to groundbreaking initiatives in championing American art and artists – what that looks like has changed demonstrably throughout the last 217 years. This exhibition explores PAFA’s impressive collection with a critical eye and emphasizes its transformative contribution to the history of American Art.  

Making American Artists is organized into five thematic sections: portraiture, history painting, still life, genre scenes, and landscape. This format allows for objects from different time periods to be shown together, creating striking visual counterpoints designed to encourage a new dialogue about what constitutes American history and identity. Visitors will be able to make connections across time and place revealing the accomplishments of American artists, as well as fostering insightful cross-temporal exchanges between works of art. All the featured artists’ careers were shaped by PAFA, whether through their education or the exhibition and display of their work. The exhibition critically re-examines this legacy while shedding light on PAFA’s continuing role in shaping the understanding of the relevance of American art in the twenty-first century. 

Following its close at PAFA in April 2023, the American Federation of Arts will organize the exhibition’s tour from June 2023 – May 2025. For more information, visit.  

Exhibition Highlights

Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827)​ George Washington at Princeton,  1779​
Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827)​
George Washington at Princeton,  1779​
Oil on canvas​
93 x 58 1/2 in. (236.2 x 148.6 cm.)​
Gift of Maria McKean Allen and Phebe Warren Downes through the bequest of their mother, Elizabeth Wharton McKean, 1943.16.2​
James Brantley (b. 1945)​ Brother James, 1968​
James Brantley (b. 1945)​
Brother James, 1968​
Oil on canvas​
60 7/16 x 40 1/4 in. (153.5 x 102.2 cm.)​
John Lambert Fund, 1970.1
Horace Pippin (1888-1946) John Brown Going to his Hanging, 1942
Horace Pippin (1888-1946)
John Brown Going to his Hanging, 1942
Oil on canvas
24 1/8 x 30 1/4 in. (61.3 x 76.8 cm.)
John Lambert Fund, 1943.11
Alice Neel (1900-1984) Investigation of Poverty at the Russell Sage Foundation, 1933
Alice Neel (1900-1984)
Investigation of Poverty at the Russell Sage Foundation, 1933
Oil on canvas
24 1/8 x 30 1/8 in. (61.2775 x 76.5175 cm.)
Art by Women Collection, Gift of Linda Lee Alter, 2010.27.2
© The Estate of Alice Neel, Courtesy David Zwirner, New York.
Margaretta Angelica Peale (1795-1882)​ Strawberries and Cherries, ca. 1813 1830​
Margaretta Angelica Peale (1795-1882)​
Strawberries and Cherries, ca. 1813 1830​
Oil on canvas​
10 1/16 x 12 1/8 in. (25.55875 x 30.7975 cm.)​
Source unknown, 1924.11
Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986)​ Red Canna, 1923​
Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986)​
Red Canna, 1923​
Oil on canvas​
12 x 9 7/8 in. (30.48 x 25.0825 cm.)​
The Vivian O. and Meyer P. Potamkin Collection, Bequest of Vivian O. Potamkin, 2003.1.8​
© Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
Lilly Martin Spencer (1822-1902) Mother and Child by the Hearth, 1867
Lilly Martin Spencer (1822-1902)
Mother and Child by the Hearth, 1867
Oil on canvas
34 1/2 x 27 1/4 in. (87.63 x 69.215 cm.)
Edna Andrade, Wyckoff, and Harriet B. Kravitz Funds, 2010.2
Edward L. Loper (1916-2011) Sunday Afternoon, 1948
Edward L. Loper (1916-2011)
Sunday Afternoon, 1948
Oil on canvas
20 x 24 in. (50.8 x 61.0 cm.)
Gift of Dr. George J. Roth, 1970.34
Thomas Moran (1837-1926) Two Women in the Woods, 1870
Thomas Moran (1837-1926)
Two Women in the Woods, 1870
Oil on canvas
20 x 30 in. (50.8 x 76.2 cm.)
Orton P. Jackson Fund in memory of Emily Penrose Jackson, 2015.19
May Howard Jackson (1877-1931) Morris Heights, N.Y. City, 1912
May Howard Jackson (1877-1931)
Morris Heights, N.Y. City, 1912
Oil on linen canvas, mounted to wood panel
12 1/4 x 16 in. (31.115 x 40.64 cm.)
Museum Purchase, 2018.14

Exhibition Support

Making American Artists: Stories from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 1776 – 1976 is made possible by the Richard C. von Hess Foundation. Generous support is provided by Julie Jensen Bryan and Robert Bryan.

Donor lists as of April 1, 2022