Iconic Art in Philadelphia

March 4, 2020

Philadelphia has a legacy of making art accessible. With the first art museum and school in the U.S. and more public art than any other American city – including murals and sculptures – the spirit of the city can be found in the art that follows you down the street into parks, open spaces, museums and galleries.

Quintessential art to see in Philadelphia:

LOVE Sculpture by Robert Indiana

LOVE Park is one of the most popular spots in Philadelphia for a selfie. Photo by M. Zugale for PHLCVB.

In honor of the U.S. Bicentennial in 1976, famed artist Robert Indiana was asked to lend his aluminum-molded LOVE sculpture to Philadelphia. It was placed in JFK Plaza, with a clear view all the way down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The plaza has since been known as LOVE Park and is arguably the most selfie-friendly spot in Philadelphia.

Rocky by A. Thomas Schomberg

Yo, Philly! Rocky Film Tour guide Mike Kunda poses in front of the Rocky statue by A. Thomas Schomberg at the entrance to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Photo by K. Huff for PHLCVB.

The Rocky movies are known the world over and no trip to Philadelphia is complete without a visit to the Rocky steps and the Rocky statue at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. This sculpture was actually created as a prop for a scene in the film Rocky III, however, Sylvester Stallone gave it to Philadelphia in 1982, as he felt that the fictional fighter Rocky Balboa was symbolic of the city, where anyone from anywhere can succeed with grit and hard work.

The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost: The Calders

Fountain with sculptures near City Hall in Philadelphia
Swann Memorial Fountain (1924) by Alexander Stirling Calder (1870 – 1945), in Philadelphia’s Logan Square. Photo licensed via Adobe Photo Stock.

The artwork of the Calder family of sculptors punctuates the Benjamin Franklin Parkway from start to finish. The patriarch, Alexander Milne Calder, emigrated from Scotland to the U.S. in 1868 and settled in Philadelphia. He is best known for the immense bronze statue of Philadelphia founder William Penn, placed on top of City Hall in 1894 – the largest in the world atop a public building. His son, Alexander Stirling Calder, was an accomplished sculptor who created the Swann Fountain in Logan Square. Also called Fountain of Three Rivers, the art deco sculpture was created in 1924 and features Native American subjects that represent the Delaware, Schuylkill, and Wissahickon Rivers. Visit the Philadelphia Museum of Art to see a kinetic mobile by the third generation, Alexander “Sandy” Calder, who invented the mobile. Ghost flies above the great Stair Hall.

TIP: Look out the window on the top floor of the front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art to see all three Calder pieces of the family affectionately known as the “Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.”

Thomas Eakins’ “Portrait of Dr. Samuel D. Gross (The Gross Clinic)”

Portrait of Dr. Samuel D. Gross (The Gross Clinic), 1875. The painting was a gift of the Alumni Association to Jefferson Medical College in 1878 and purchased by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2007 with the generous support of more than 3,400 donors. The iconic painting is shared by both museums and is currently on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Photo by K. Huff for PHLCVB.

This masterpiece by renowned Philadelphia artist Thomas Eakins (seen drawing in the back of the painting) was shocking and frightening for those who saw it for the first time because it depicts a bloody surgical procedure in progress. Eakins created Portrait of Dr. Samuel D. Gross (The Gross Clinic) for the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia and is now recognized as one of the greatest American paintings. The New York Times offers a comprehensive look at the painting online.

Keith Haring’s “We the Youth”

We the Youth mural by Keith Haring. Photo by S. Weinik for Mural Arts.

This mural by the Pennsylvania-born, iconic pop artist Keith Haring was created in 1987 for the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution (the title is a play on “We the People”). We the Youth is the only Keith Haring collaborative public mural remaining intact and on its original site and was recently restored by Mural Arts Philadelphia.

Barnes Foundation Ensembles

Photo courtesy of the Barnes Foundation.

Philadelphia native Dr. Albert C. Barnes amassed one of the world’s most important collections of post-impressionist and early modernist art, between 1912 and 1951. As he gathered works that also included African sculpture, antiquities, Asian art, Native American ceramics, jewelry, and textiles, manuscripts, old master paintings, and European and American decorative and industrial arts, he would arrange them in “ensembles.” Rather than by chronology, style or genre, the arrangements would be for the purposes of symmetry, or light, color and space, instead. By experimenting with the display, he challenged the traditional norms of viewing fine art, providing a new way to experience it. Visit the Barnes Foundation to see pieces by Renoir, Cézanne and Matisse available nowhere else and make your own connections with the world-renowned collection.

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