Show Summary Details

Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD REFERENCE ( (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2013. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single entry from a reference work in OR for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 24 April 2018


The Grove Encyclopedia of American Art

George E. Thomas


City in Pennsylvania, located on the west bank of the Delaware River at the point where it is joined by the Schuylkill River, about 160 km inland, north of Delaware Bay. The largest city in the state, Philadelphia was founded in 1682 and was the capital of the federal government between 1790 and 1800. It is an important port and an industrial, commercial and cultural center.

History and Urban Development.

William Penn's Proprietary Commonwealth, 1681–1701.

Philadelphia originated from the utopian values of its Quaker founder, William Penn (1644–1718), who planned it without walls or fortifications and welcomed to it all nationalities and religious groups. Penn's father, Admiral William Penn (d 1670), made loans to King Charles II, which were repaid in 1681 in the land grant that became Pennsylvania. Idealism and English landed class values shaped the Philadelphia of the 17th and the early 18th centuries, making Penn a key figure in the future of the city.

In 1682 Penn's surveyor, Thomas Holme (1624–95), drew a plan for the “City of Brotherly Love” located on the narrow waist of a peninsula bounded by the two rivers. It was sited so as to avoid nearby Swedish settlements. The plan recalled Roman military camps, with a central square intersected at right angles by main streets that divided the urban space into quarters. That “Centre Square” was to contain the Quaker Meeting, market and public buildings, and secondary squares were laid out near the center of each quarter.

Because Penn hoped to attract the landed gentry, rather than a mercantile class, sizeable city lots were awarded to those who purchased large plantations in the outlying colony. It was expected that on these city lots would be built manor houses with outbuildings set in gardens to create “a greene Country Towne.” The so-called “slate-roofed house” of one of the wealthiest Quakers, Samuel Carpenter, an H-plan, late medieval residence (c1692; destr. 1866), probably represented Penn's expectations. Few such houses were built in the Quaker community, but numerous substantial brick houses had been erected by 1701, when Penn granted the town its city charter and created its government of mayor and aldermen. The charter's promise of religious liberty, celebrated on its 50th anniversary by the commissioning of the Liberty Bell, formed the basis for the city's growth.

18th-Century Development.

The plan survived, but the middle-class colonists who came to Pennsylvania rapidly subverted Penn's design, petitioning for the removal of the market, Centre Meeting and Court House from the Centre Square to Second Street near the Delaware River, where a significant port evolved with docks and warehouses and a dense village of two- and three-story brick row houses. This area grew by replication with added market shambles and religious buildings at the south end and, later, at the north end of Second Street. Benjamin Franklin (1706–90), who arrived in Philadelphia in 1723, founded many of the city's institutions, including the first subscription library (the Library Company, 1731), its first college (1749; now the University of Pennsylvania), the nation's first scientific institution (the American Philosophical Society, 1743) and the first hospital (Pennsylvania Hospital, begun 1755; Pine Street). With the new churches and government buildings, these formed an urban core that was unified by its material—brick with wood or marble trim—in styles that followed, with some delay, English taste. Relying on amateur architects, such as Dr. John Kearsley (1676–1741) at the Episcopalian Christ Church on Second Street (1727), or sophisticated gentlemen, such as Andrew Hamilton (1676–1741) at the State House, Fifth Street (1732), local builders were responsible for most of the work. One of the few architects with European training was Robert Smith, whose works included the steeple of Christ Church (1753), St Peter's Church (begun 1758) and Carpenters' Hall on Chestnut Street (1768).

Because of Penn's charter, Philadelphia enjoyed a cosmopolitan population drawn from many of the dissenting groups in Europe, a fact that was visible in the city by the remarkable variety of churches. This drew the attention of Swedish naturalist Pehr Kalm (Travels in North America, trans. John Foster, London, 1770–1), who visited the city in 1748 and noted the many churches and peoples.

It was this religious tolerance, and the city's geographically central location in the colonies, that made Philadelphia the setting for the first and second Continental Congresses and later for the Constitutional Convention as well as the seat of the new national government from 1790 to 1800 (when Washington, DC, was established as capital); all of this resulted in a number of impressive buildings.

Beyond the city limits were the new Palladian country seats, which were located near the Schuylkill River on the hills above Fairmount. Many of these houses survive because they were later incorporated into Fairmount Park, a vast green larger than all of Manhattan Island that cuts through the center of the city. An important example is Belmont Mansion, built in 1743–51 by lawyer Richard Peters. With a population of nearly 50,000, revolutionary-era Philadelphia was the second largest English-speaking city after London and the principal metropolis of the new nation. By 1800, the city had reached the limits of its first period of growth; hampered by a lack of clean water, the difficulty of crossing the Schuylkill and the loss of the federal and state governments, the city confronted a seemingly bleak future.

19th-Century Decline and Revival.

An arched wooden bridge crossed the Schuylkill by 1800, and the same year Benjamin Henry Latrobe's steam-powered waterworks provided clean water across the city through wooden pipes. Pump failures made it unreliable, but within a decade new water-powered works guaranteed the future of the city. Latrobe's presence here signified Philadelphia's continuing attraction for immigrants as the nation's creative center for literature and the arts. In architecture there followed a group of classically inspired public buildings by Latrobe, his pupils and imitators. The marble pump-house of Latrobe's waterworks (1799–1801; destr. c.1827) and the Second Bank of the United States (1819–24), which merged Roman vaulting and planning with the facade of the Athenian Parthenon, the US Mint (1829–33; destr. 1902) and the US Naval Asylum (1826–33), later Biddle Hall on Grays Ferry Avenue, all by Latrobe's pupil William Strickland, stood out in color and scale in the brick Quaker city. These gave it its new identity as the “Athens of America,” a slogan developed by financier Nicholas Biddle (1786–1844) during his battle with President Jackson to maintain Philadelphia as the national center of banking. As executor of the will of banker Stephen Girard (1750–1831), Biddle chose Thomas U. Walter to design the Grecian temple for Girard College for Orphans (1835–48).

The counterpart to the Greek Revival was other historical revivals, chosen with an eye to reflect the purpose of the building. Most notable was the castellated Gothic Eastern State Penitentiary (1825–29, John Haviland), whose massive walls recalled George Dance's Newgate Prison, while its radial array of cells off a central core reflected Jeremy Bentham's panopticon scheme then being proposed for asylums.

The mature Gothic Revival style reached Philadelphia through the vehicle of plans of an English 12th-century church, St Michael's Longstanton, that were sent by the Cambridge Camden Society for the new congregation of St James the Less in Nicetown. Complete in nearly every detail, even to a bend in the axis between the nave and the apse, it became a model for suburban churches across the northeastern USA. Familiarity with the true British sources gave Scotsman John Notman an advantage in the competition for the Renaissance revival Athenaeum (1845) and the Pugin-inspired St Mark's Church (1847–52). Terraced rows of brick houses, modeled on those of London, housed the old gentry, while new suburban sprawl in the form of villas and Italianate mansions accessed by a radiating fan of railroads and street-cars reflected the growing mercantile and industrially based fortunes. By 1850 the population was nearly 500,000 housed mostly in row houses, made possible by the nation's first savings and loan society. These houses determined Philadelphia's low-scale, anti-monumental character.

By 1857 Philadelphia was the nation's premier manufacturing center because of its Franklin Institute, which disseminated the new knowledge of the industrial economy, and because of its access to raw materials, transport and an educated population.

Nothing expressed the wealth of the city like the ambitious scheme for City Hall, which was returned to Penn's original site at Centre Square in a monumental pile whose four facades represented the multiple roles of city and county government. Designed by Scots-born John McArthur Jr., who had trained with Thomas Walter and enjoyed vast commercial success with hotels, stores and mansions across the city, City Hall adopted the Second Empire style that had become the emblem of government architecture after the Civil War. What made it different was the fabulous array of sculpture across the facade that describe the history and culture of the region while representing the functions within the building, all capped by a tower that kept being increased in height until it was the tallest masonry spire in the world, with the exception of the Washington Monument in the nation's capital. Aluminum plating on the cast iron plates of the crowning mansard protected the marble-clad tower from the usual green stains that copper cladding produced and attested to the city's industrial innovations. Like the modern technology that underlay the historicizing dress of City Hall, these achievements signaled the potency of Victorian Philadelphia's progressivism.

It was this city that the world visited for the 1876 International Exhibition, seeing there innovations in machine design and systemization of manufacturing that were shortly spread worldwide. The perceptive visitor would have also witnessed in Philadelphia the first fruits of the rising consumer culture, characterized by hundreds of thousands of individual row houses and a degree of leisure that was unprecedented in the laboring classes. With factories set among row houses, regional commercial districts and institutions, the city's mature form developed as a small financial and goverment center surrounded by self-sufficient neighborhoods connected to the core by rail transport.

By the 1870s, the built-up area of the city covered 130 sq km. Brick, the material of the Colonial city of industry and the new workers' row houses, remained the material of choice for Philadelphia architects, giving it a darkness of tone that soon contrasted with other turn-of-the-century cities. A strident and unconventional regional architecture reflected the progressive values of a community whose leaders were engineers and industrialists. Frank Furness's idiosyncratic Academy of Fine Arts (1871–6) and the library of the University of Pennsylvania (1888–91) and the structural innovations of the Wilson Brothers, particularly the remarkable clear span train sheds for Broad Street Station (1892–3; destr. 1956) and Reading Terminal (1893–5), exemplify the daring use of modern construction systems with aesthetic intent.

George Howe entered the Furness office in 1916 and then went off to World War I before returning to a decade practice that created the Norman-influenced design of suburban Chestnut Hill. In the mid-1920s, Howe shifted toward commercial clients and joined William Lescaze in a partnership that dramatically pared away historic detail toward buildings that reflected the Furnessic machine culture of the 19th century. Their Philadelphia Savings Fund Society was a modern banking office, surmounted by an office skyscraper, which is one of the icons of American modernism. The most permanent early 20th-century change to the city was the creation of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, a vast ceremonial gash through an industrial neighborhood that was intended to link Fairmont Park and its new art museum to the downtown and City Hall.

The death of the industrial city undermined the values and insights that had informed the core character of Philadelphia design from Furness to the so-called Philadelphia School, led by Louis I. Kahn and spread by Romaldo Giurgola and Robert Venturi. Their architecture reflected the idea that design was rooted in constituent facts of construction and program that recalls the LeCorbusian “machine for” metaphor. As long as industrialists and engineers were part of the culture and buildings looked like what they were, Philadelphia could generate an architecture of its own. That identity ended with the collapse of the industrial culture in the 1960s. The notable exception has been the architecture produced by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, who turned to other models from Roman urbanism to Las Vegas's strip to find metaphors for post-industrial life. As usual, they have been more honored elsewhere, though they established an important cluster of works at the University of Pennsylvania in research labs such as the Institute for Advanced Science and Technology on 34th Street and the restoration of Frank Furness's great library.

The greatest change to the identity of the contemporary city occurred in the 1980s when Baltimore-based developer Willard G. Rouse announced that he was breaking Edmund Bacon's “gentleman's agreement” that no building would rise above the three-story-high sculpture of William Penn that crowned city hall's tower. Bacon's idea had resulted in a dull uniformity across the skyline that reified the conceptual order of a city ruled by Penn and the old Quaker leadership. Rouse's first Liberty Place tower of 61 stories capped by a tapered spire rises some 950 feet above the street and surpasses Penn's perch by nearly 400 feet. The building unleashed a half dozen skyscrapers that have created the new postcard view of the city while expressing a new openness and vitality that has resulted in the doubling of the city's downtown population from 40,000 in the 1980s to more than 100,000 in 2009. The result is a vital downtown that is once again a generator for the region.

Art Life and Organization.

The early arts in Philadelphia can be said to have originated by grafting on to Quaker ideals the values of other English immigrants who sought economic rather than philosophical advantage and who linked the region's artistic interests to the class values of the English society to which they belonged. Quaker encouragement of religious and cultural diversity also shaped the distinctive character of art in Philadelphia, which emphasized individualism and a theoretical realism that survived well into the 20th century, transcending wider movements in art.

As a result of a substantial community of craftsmen and the number of painters working in the city, during the 18th century Philadelphia became a center for the training of artists, and considerable sophistication was expected of them. Imported objects, newly arrived artisans from Europe and, after 1750, the use of pattern books kept the city in touch with innovations of fashion and technique. Unlike craftsmen, painters were not apprenticed and depended on helpful advice from older artists, books of theory and the opportunity to study the work of others. All these approaches are obvious in the work of Benjamin West, who moved to Philadelphia in 1756. There he acquired several important patrons, two of whom, the Allens and the Shippens, made it possible for him to go to Italy in late 1759. From there he went to London, where he produced his great history paintings, including William Penn's Treaty with the Indians (1771–2; Philadelphia, PA Acad. F.A.), which celebrated his native state. His studio in London became a center for fellow Americans who benefited from his influence, including the portrait painters Charles Willson Peale, who moved to Philadelphia in 1776 and remained there until the end of his life, and Gilbert Stuart, who was based in Philadelphia between 1796 and 1800. The disadvantages of the lack of organized training in the arts in North America were obvious to those who had studied in Europe. In 1794 Peale played a leading part in the foundation by a group of artists of the Columbianum in Philadelphia, which was intended to support regular exhibitions and a school, but the organization lasted for only one year. At the same time Peale also constructed a museum adjacent to his home. The contents consisted chiefly of natural curiosities and his portraits of the heroes of the American Revolution (now at Independence National Historical Park).

In 1805 the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts was founded with Peale, his son Rembrandt Peale, and the sculptor William Rush as the only artist members, for unlike the Columbianum, its founders came principally from the legal and business community. Originally no provision was made for exhibitions or a school, and in 1810 the Society of Artists of the United States was organized in protest. In the following year the Academy established an honorary membership of Academicians and a life class, which functioned sporadically through the middle of the 19th century. Nevertheless, the Academy served as a focal point for artists in the city, particularly through its annual exhibitions, which began in 1811. As the century progressed, other forms of training became available, including private study and the curriculum of public schools. There was a considerable variety of art to be seen in Philadelphia, and this, combined with the lack of methodical instruction, produced some naive but sophisticated original work by such painters as Bass Otis and William E. Winner (c.1815–83). There was no formal instruction for sculpture until late in the century. Even William Rush considered himself a “carver.” After Peale and his family, Thomas Sully and then John Neagle dominated the art of portraiture in Philadelphia. Neagle also painted landscapes, but Sully had a wider repertory, including historical subjects. As a result of the prominence of the city's publishing industry, there was a rapid growth of commercial painting, and this led to the work of a number of professional illustrators, such as Felix Octavius Carr Darley. Publishing reached a highpoint with the appearance of John James Audubon's Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America (pl. 13, 1845–8), which was printed by John T. Bowen (1801–56) in Philadelphia.

By the middle of the 19th century Philadelphia had found a new muse in the industrial processes that were changing life in every dimension. In 1855 the Academy made an attempt to re-establish its school. In 1868 Christian Schussele (?1824–79) was appointed first Professor of Drawing and Painting, and in its new (1876) building modeled on the factories of the region, Frank Furness and George Watson Hewitt (1841–1916) included classrooms. Thomas Eakins, who worked in Philadelphia throughout his life, started to teach at the Academy in 1876 and took as his core subject modern life from medical operations to sporting events. He became Director of Instruction in 1882 but was forced to resign in 1886 in a dispute over his insistence on teaching with the assistance of a nude model in mixed classes of men and women. Eakins's emphasis on the study of the human figure as the basis of art was continued in a more relaxed manner by his former students such as Thomas Anshutz. Toward the end of the century, under such teachers as William Merritt Chase and Cecilia Beaux, the study of the nude model became less central to the Academy's method, but modern life remained the subject of many artists such as Charles Sheeler. Indeed, it is fair to say that what the rest of the nation saw as a Quaker hold on Philadelphia culture more accurately was a reflection of the power of the engineering values that were shaping the city.

During the early part of the 19th century, artists could see pictures hanging in various public buildings in the city. The annual exhibitions of the Pennsylvania Academy and the Academy's own collection of casts, prints and drawings were also of considerable importance. The influence of the vast Centennial Exposition of 1876 was, however, unparalleled in the history of the city. The Fine Arts section was designed to show American work in relation to that of foreign artists. In this way paintings and sculptures by many well-known artists were introduced to hundreds of thousands of Americans. This was responsible for inspiring John G. Johnson, whose great collection, mainly of European Old Masters, is now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The interest thus generated in the work of craftsmen, artisans and manufacturers led to the creation in 1876 of the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art. Modeled on the educational facilities of the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum) in London, the classes of the school were organized to provide industry with the technological skills required. Throughout the 19th century the industrial wealth of the city was being used for art patronage, both of contemporary American artists and of European Old Masters. Major collectors at the turn of the century included lawyer John G. Johnson and the financiers Widener, Wilstach and Elkins families.

Although teaching methods at the Academy had become more conservative by the end of the 19th century, Philadelphia's role as a center of industry and progress attracted such students as Robert Henri, William J. Glackens, John Sloan and others, who joined Eakins in representing the subjects of the modern world. Their determination to reflect the social impact of industrialization won them the name Ashcan school when they regrouped in New York in 1903. Nevertheless, the Academy remained receptive to new ideas, and when the sensational exhibition in 1908 by The Eight (which included the work of five ex-Philadelphians) closed in New York, it moved to the Academy galleries in Philadelphia. Traveling scholarships between 1900 and 1914, the period during which New York became established as the artistic center for the USA, enabled many Academy students to see avant-garde European art.

In the 20th century, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, led first by Fiske Kimball, created early period rooms that placed objects in their historical context; more recently the museum has organized blockbuster exhibitions, many drawing on its remarkable collections of early modern painting and assemblages from Cezanne to Duchamp. Post-1985 artistic activity has taken place in the neighborhoods under the leadership of Los Angeles native Jane Golden, who was hired by the Anti-Graffiti Network (renamed the Mural Arts Society) to combat the blight of graffiti with murals commemorating the lives of the changing city and who has clad the side walls of partially demolished buildings.


J. Mease: The Picture of Philadelphia, Giving an Account of its Origins, Increase and Improvements (Philadelphia, 1811)Find this resource:

R. A. Smith: Philadelphia as It Is in 1852 (Philadelphia, 1852)Find this resource:

E. T. Freedley: Philadelphia and its Manufactures in 1857 (Philadelphia, 1858)Find this resource:

E. S. Strahan, W. Smith and J. M. Wilson: The Masterpieces of the Centennial International Exhibition (Philadelphia, 1876–8)Find this resource:

J. Scharf and T. Westcott: History of Philadelphia, 1609–1884, 3 vols (Philadelphia, 1884)Find this resource:

M. Fielding: Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors and Engravers (Philadelphia, 1926)Find this resource:

C. Sellers: Charles Willson Peale, 2 vols (Philadelphia, 1947)Find this resource:

T. White, ed.: Philadelphia Architecture in the 19th Century (Philadelphia, 1953)Find this resource:

A. Rutledge: Cumulative Record of Exhibition Catalogues: The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 1807–70; the Society of Artists, 1800–14; the Artists Fund Society, 1835–45 (Philadelphia, 1955)Find this resource:

I. Glackens: William Glackens and the Ashcan Group: The Emergence of Realism in American Art (New York, 1957)Find this resource:

E. Baltzell: Philadelphia Gentlemen: The Making of a National Upper Class (Glencoe, IL, 1958)Find this resource:

A. Garvan: “Proprietary Philadelphia as Artifact,” The History and the City, ed. O. Handlin and J. Burchard (Cambridge, MA, 1963)Find this resource:

S. Warner: The Private City: Philadelphia in Three Periods of its Growth (Philadelphia, 1968)Find this resource:

J. O'Gorman, G. Thomas and H. Myers: The Architecture of Frank Furness (Philadelphia, 1973)Find this resource:

E. Teitelman and R. Longstreth: Architecture in Philadelphia: A Guide (Cambridge, MA, 1974)Find this resource:

G. Hendricks: The Life and Work of Thomas Eakins (New York, 1974)Find this resource:

D. Sewell, ed.: Philadelphia: Three Centuries of American Art (Philadelphia, 1976) [excellent pls and bibliog. on major Philadelphia artists]Find this resource:

T. Hershberg, ed.: Philadelphia: Work, Space, Family and Group Experience in the 19th Century (New York, 1981)Find this resource:

R. Weigley, ed.: Philadelphia: A Three Hundred Year History (New York, 1982)Find this resource:

W. Ayers, ed.: A Poor Sort of Heaven, a Good Sort of Earth: The Rose Valley Arts and Crafts Experiment (Chadds Ford, PA, 1983)Find this resource:

E. Johns: Thomas Eakins: The Heroism of Modern Life (Princeton, 1984).Find this resource:

S. Tatman and R. Moss: Biographical Dictionary of Philadelphia Architects, 1700–1930 (Boston, 1985)Find this resource:

J. O'Gorman and others: Drawing towards Building: Philadelphia Architectural Graphics, 1732–1986 (Philadelphia, 1986) [excellent pls and bibliog. on Philadelphia architects]Find this resource:

D. B. Brownlee, D. Delong and E. Smith: Louis I. Kahn: In the Realm of Architecture (New York, 1991)Find this resource:

G. Thomas and others: Frank Furness: The Complete Works (New York, 1991, revised 1996) [plates of most of the firm's works and recent bibliography]Find this resource:

M. Page: “From ‘Miserable Dens’ to the ‘Marble Monster’: Historical Memory and the Design of Courthouses in Nineteenth-century Philadelphia,PA Mag. Hist. & Biog., cxix/4 (1995), pp. 299–343Find this resource:

G. Thomas and R. Venturi: William L. Price: Arts and Crafts to Modern Design (New York, 2000)Find this resource:

R. Venturi and others: Out of the Ordinary: Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown & Associates (New Haven, 2001)Find this resource:

E. J. Lapsansky, A. Verplanck: Quaker Aesthetics: Reflections on a Quaker Ethic in American Design and Consumption—1720–1920 (Philadelphia, 2003)Find this resource:

George E. Thomas