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Art in Revolutionary Philadelphia

April 17, 2010–April 3, 2011

As the political climate in Philadelphia grew increasingly charged throughout the 1770s, art became currency. Some Philadelphians who supported the patriot cause gave art in payment of taxes to help fund the war. Those loyal to the British crown (loyalists) clung to their houses and art, including furnishings, until they were ultimately confiscated or, if portable, joined their owners in exile. After the American Revolution (1775–83), art and furnishings were sold at public auctions.

Art in Revolutionary Philadelphia is presented in the gallery adjacent to the elegant Powel House Period Room (gallery 287). For the purposes of this installation, this room is interpreted as part of British General William Howe's encampment in Philadelphia from September 1777 to May 1778, when the British occupied the home of Elizabeth and Samuel Powel. (The Powels were relegated to living in the servants' quarters.) In addition, this exhibition includes rare objects from the Meschianza celebration of May 1778—the raucous final farewell to the British as they left Philadelphia. This presentation allows Museum visitors to see the featured works of art through the lens of a truly seminal period in American history—to consider the unexpected roles art played in the lives of individuals and families during the American Revolution.

Main Building


This exhibition is made possible by the Center for American Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.


Alexandra Alevizatos Kirtley, The Montgomery-Garvan Associate Curator of American Decorative Arts with Katherine Rieder, former Barra Fellow, guest curator

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