Walk Description

Constructed in the wake of the great Centennial Exposition of 1876, the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) rises on a manmade hill above the city, at the end of a great Parisian-style boulevard that cuts through William Penn's rational grid in ceremonial flourish. Everything about the museum, from its founding in the great age of public institutions that saw the birth of the Met in New York City and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, to the neoclassical temple architecture that houses it, speaks about American aspirations at the turn of the last century and the importance of public culture and education.

During this three hour visit to the museum and its collection in the company of a scholar we will comb through its most important masterworks and decorative arts, using the theme of collecting in America (and its social and political aspects) as a guiding principle.

An art historian-led tour of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

We will begin on the front steps of the museum (made famous in such movies as Rocky) overlooking the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and discuss its original founding in the waning years of the 19th century, a product of the 1876 Centennial Exposition. With the Parkway as its red carpet and the Greek neoclassical architecture as its throne, we'll discuss how the first collection was pulled together and the curatorial prowess that has kept the PMA at the forefront of American museums today.

Once inside our walk may take many trajectories, depending on the background of our docent and the intellectual proclivities of the participants in the group. We will make sure to spend ample time in the European painting and American art collection—two of the most significant collections of their type in the U.S., and home to masterworks by Rubens, El Greco, Eakins, Van Gogh, and Duchamp. We will also carve out time to consider the American period rooms, one of the finest collection of early American furniture and decorative arts in the world, where we will discuss some of the major curatorial impulses that have driven the museum over the past century.

Other collections worth considering include a staggering assemblage of medieval arms and armor, a world-class Chinese porcelain holding, and furniture from Europe and Asia. Depending on the time of year, we may also include a visit to any significant current exhibition, which in recent years have included such diverse topics as Frida Kahlo and Cezanne.

Regardless of our specific path, in the company of our docent, a trained scholar with deep experience in the museum and its collections, we will emerge with a profound knowledge of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and its place in the history of American collecting, museums, and art.

Duration: 3 hours
Category: Art
Venues: Philadelphia Museum of Art
Incidentals: Museum tickets (adults/seniors/students and youth)- US$20/18/14
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    Katie Wood Kirchhoff

    Katie Wood Kirchhoff received her B.A. from Smith College and her Master's from the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture at the University of Delaware. She is currently completing her Ph.D. at Delaware with a focus on 18th and 19th century American art and architecture. In addition to her work with some of the top institutions in Philadelphia and Washington, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the American Philosophical Society, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum she has a strong interest in maritime studies, vernacular architecture, and Roman art.

  • Nenette Luarca-Shoaf

    Nenette Luarca-Shoaf holds a B.A. in Art History from the University of Southern California and an M.A. in the Humanities from the University of Chicago. She spent four years designing and conducting programs for adult audiences at the Art Institute of Chicago, and has also worked with the education departments of the Saint Louis Art Museum and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Delaware, where she specializes in nineteenth-century American art and visual culture, and has recently been awarded fellowships from the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the American Antiquarian Society.

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    Julie Flanagan

    Julie McGinnis Flanagan holds a B.A. in Art and Archaeology, with minors in American Studies and French Literature, from Princeton University, as well as an M.A. in Art History from the University of Delaware. She is currently a Ph.D. student in Art History at Temple University, with a focus on American art and architecture of the nineteenth century. Julie has worked with the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Frick Collection, New-York Historical Society, ART+AUCTION magazine, ARTINFO.com and the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs.

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    Jennifer Zwilling

    Jennifer Adele Zwilling was previously the Assistant Curator of American Decorative Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. She completed her Masters Degree in Art History at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art. Her academic research focuses on late Nineteenth and early Twentieth century Philadelphia Fine Art, Decorative Art and Architecture as well as the Modern and Contemporary Craft Movement. As an independent curator, her most recent exhibition explored the theme of nurturing in contemporary art practices. She is also a long-term adjunct instructor of Art History at Tyler School of Art as well as the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, developing classes focused on topics such as, the History of Modern Craft, American Art and the work of architect Frank Furness. Ms. Zwilling is especially interested in the intersections between Philadelphia’s rich cultural traditions and the city’s current vibrant artistic life.

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    Emilie Parker

    Emilie Parker has been a museum educator for fifteen years and wants to help everyone fall in love with art and architecture. Emile is particularly interested in comparing art across cultures to uncover common themes and motivations. She is currently the Hirsig Family Director of Education at the Rosenbach Museum & Library in Philadelphia. Prior to her work at the Rosenbach, she taught in the galleries and planned teacher programming at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and worked as an educator at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

  • Matthew Palczynski

    Dr. Matthew Palczynski is an art historian who specializes in the art of the 20th and 21st centuries. Matthew received his Ph.D. from Temple University, where he currently teaches the history of modern and contemporary art. Having served in a variety of museum positions, including Curator, Staff Lecturer for Western Art, and Museum Educator, Matthew has presented a wide range of lectures, papers, and gallery talks in the Philadelphia region and beyond, including at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Barnes Foundation, The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Art, Woodmere Museum of Art, Temple University, University of the Arts, University of the Sciences, Rosemont College, Philadelphia Sketch Club, Philadelphia Theatre Company, Cornell University, Yale University, and the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art in Washington.