Discover the Museum’s World-Renowned Collection of American Art
American art has been at the heart of the museum’s collection since its founding in 1876. The Department of American Art oversees paintings and sculptures made by artists born or residing in the United States, or by American-born artists working around the world from the 1600s to the 1960s. Our collection also features US-made ceramics, furniture, glass, metalwork, and craft objects from colonial times through the present day.
Visitors to the collection are presented with a chronological survey of American art in the galleries, and can view art in the context of historical settings, such as:
- Müller House Kitchen from Millbach, Pennsylvania (1752)
- The second-floor front parlor from the House of Samuel and Elizabeth Powel on Third Street, Philadelphia (1769)
- Woodwork from the house of Ezekiel Hersey Derby of Salem, Massachusetts (1800)
- The Shaker sleeping room from the North Family Dwelling House in New Lebanon, New York (1818–40)
- Sculptor Wharton Esherick’s library fireplace and entrance to the music room of the Bok House (Gulph Mills, Pennsylvania, 1936)
The collection’s strengths focus on works created in Philadelphia, including its globally recognized collection of Pennsylvania German art, the Peale family paintings, and the work of Thomas Eakins. Other areas of strength include furniture, silver, and ceramics made by US-born artists from the colonial and early national period.
Pennsylvania German Art and American Ceramics
In the 1890s, American ceramics scholar (and future museum director) Edwin Atlee Barber built the foundations of an outstanding ceramics collection, which grew with important gifts of Pennsylvania German art from collectors Titus C. Geesey and J. Stogdell Stokes. The collection now includes the first documented piece of Philadelphia’s eighteenth-century porcelain from the colonial Philadelphia factory of Bonnin and Morris; red earthenware made in the early Pennsylvania German tradition; and porcelain made in the 1820s and 1830s at the Philadelphia factory of William Ellis Tucker.
The Peale Family Collection
Thanks to an extraordinary gift from Robert L. McNeil, Jr. in 2007 the museum has assembled the most comprehensive collection of works by Philadelphia’s Peale family, creating a center for the study of America’s first painting dynasty.
The cornerstone of the collection arrived In 1945, when the museum purchased Charles Willson Peale’s famous trompe l’oeil painting of his two sons, The Staircase Group (1795).
Additionally, in 1983, the museum acquired the set of five Cadwalader family portraits, painted by Charles Willson Peale in the early 1770s, and related furniture from their Second Street house.
Working in one of the leading centers of production for silver in the United States, Philadelphia silversmiths made many of the highlights of the museum’s comprehensive collection. The sparkling survey of domestic silver is complemented by the trendsetting neoclassical presentation urn Richard Humphreys made for Charles Thomson in 1774, and the colossal presentation vase made by Thomas Fletcher for Hugh Maxwell in 1829.
The Thomas Eakins Collection
A generous gift from the artist’s widow, Susan Macdowell Eakins, and her friend Mary Adeline Williams, created the Thomas Eakins memorial collection in 1929–30, founding the most important extant survey of the work of Philadelphia’s greatest artist. More than a hundred paintings and oil sketches, many sculptures, and dozens of drawings and photographs allow for the study of the working methods and accomplishment of a realist artist dedicated to depicting the faces and places of Philadelphia.The collection was crowned in 2007 by the acquisition of Eakins’ masterpiece, The Gross Clinic.
Other noteworthy holdings in the collection include:
- Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ gilded Diana of 1892–93, the almost fifteen-foot weathervane that crowned the tower of the first Madison Square Garden in New York City.
- The most important collection of Presidential China outside of Washington, D.C., which highlights the aesthetic preferences of the White House from the era of George Washington to the late twentieth century.
- Landscape paintings by Thomas Cole, George Inness, and Thomas Moran that depict the American landscape share the galleries with paintings by American artists who studied and worked abroad, including Cassatt, Sargent, and Whistler.
- Paintings by Pennsylvanian impressionists and realists, including Daniel Garber, Edward Redfield, and the members of the Ashcan School, such as William Glackens and John Sloan.
- Works by Black artists, from early artisans to painters such as Henry Ossawa Tanner and Horace Pippin.
- Early modern masterpieces by Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Charles Sheeler that represent the movement toward abstraction in the twentieth century.
- Post-war abstraction in the works of Arshile Gorky, Hans Hofmann, Franz Kline, and Jackson Pollock, alongside realist masterpieces by Ben Shahn, Dorothea Tanning, and Andrew Wyeth.
- An outstanding collection of contemporary crafts including ceramic, stained glass, metal, wood, and fiber led by Wharton Esherick’s woodwork.
Interested in learning more about the museum’s collection of American art?
Plan your visit today .