Inspiration in Philadelphia and Chadds Ford

My wife Alice and I went up to Pennsylvania for two days to "do serious art museum." One of the things I love about living on the east coast is the quality of the art museum collections. If one is open to the subtle strains of 19th and early 20th century painting, the museums in the northeast US are simply the strongest. It makes up for us having to breath the worst air in the country.

Above is the studio N.C. Wyeth had built for himself in Chadds Ford- it is full of his equipment and props. He came from a prosperous family and made a great deal of money early in his career from his excellent skills as an illustrator. So he built himself a studio that has to be the envy of any painter- his big north-facing studio windows put Edward Hopper's to shame, but then Wyeth didn't have Hopper's view of the sea. If I had to choose between the two, a not terribly likely dilemma, it would be the more modest Hopper studio, but only by a hair. Sadly, the Brandywine Museum that runs the tours through the studio allows no inside photography.

Here I am working this morning along the banks of the Brandywine River, just outside the old grist mill that has been turned into the Brandywine Museum.  As typical of my current methods, I'm using vine charcoal on good etching paper. The Museum has to win the prize for the most charming setting for a regional art museum. They have a fabulous show up of N.C.'s paintings that I'd recommend to anyone. One gallery has 17 large oils he produced to illustrate Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island in a single summer, an amazing accomplishment. My wife the therapist wonders if he wasn't manic. Starting in September, Brandywine Museum will have a rare Rockwell Kent exhibition, so we're making plans to truck on back up there for that.

Below is a photo of me in the Philadelphia Museum of Art standing next to a beautiful Sanford Gifford oil. I'd seen this before and it had even come down a few years ago to the National Gallery of Art in their big Gifford retrospective. He is an amazing painter, and the way he makes the storm clouds wrap around the mountains so believably is very sensitive and quite touching.

The final photo is me on the grand stair case at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Had they provided top hats and canes I would have happily done my best Fred Astair for them- that's how the place makes you feel. If you want to see Victorian extravagance done well, this is the place. It is just drop dead gorgeous as a facility. Again sadly they only allow photography from the entrance lobby. Trust me, if you haven't ever seen the PAFA's old building you need to try hard to get there. You won't be sorry.

The Academy has a treasure chest of a Permanent Collection. One of my favorites was a very unusual Charles Burchfield oil landscape (he worked almost always in watercolor, and always well). They have real gems of 19th century American painting. 


  1. Philip:
    You should check out fun to have some statistics on your blog. I have never been in the Brandywine area, but I might go down in late fall of this year.


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