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Home | Articles | The Sculpture Study Center at the Pennsylvania Museum of the Fine Arts

by Lynn Marsden-Atlass

Fig. 1: Sculpture Study Center, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 2005. Courtesy of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia; photography by Jessica Griffin.
On January 8, 2005, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts initiated its 200th Anniversary Celebration with the opening of its new Samuel M.V. Hamilton Building. One of the most exciting features of the new building is a 2,250-square-foot second-floor gallery that has been dedicated as a Sculpture Study Center (Fig. 1). Twenty-three floor-to-ceiling cases installed on three walls of the gallery display more than 150 works—much more of the Academy’s sculpture collection than has ever before been on permanent view at one time. Presented as open storage, the Sculpture Study Center will provide students and visitors access to a broad range of American sculpture dating from the late eighteenth century. The collection’s strengths include portrait busts, neoclassical marble
Fig. 2: William Rush (American, 1756–1833), Marquis de Lafayette, 1824. Terracotta. 21 x 18 3/4 x 11 1/4 inches. Courtesy of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; gift of Dr. William Rush Dunton, Jr. 1911.3.
sculpture, and late-nineteenth-century bronzes. Many of America’s most important sculptors are represented in the collection. Highlights include William Rush’s (1756–1833) terracotta of the Marquis de Lafayette, (1824; Fig. 2). One of three professional artists who co-founded the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1805, Rush was its director for all but one year until his death. It is said that Rush observed Lafayette at an official dinner during the latter’s weeklong visit to Philadelphia in 1824 and then modeled the bust from memory. A few days later, he showed it to Lafayette, who called it an “excellent likeness.” Although Rush never exhibited the bust during his lifetime, it remained in his family until his great-grandson presented it to the Academy in 1911.1 The celebrated painter Thomas Eakins
Fig. 3: Charles Grafly (American, 1862–1929), The Oarsman, 1910. Bronze with red-brown patina. 38 1/4 x 12 x 9 1/2 inches. Courtesy of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; gift of Dorothy Grafly, 1969.22.
(1844–1916) was one of the Academy’s most distinguished and controversial teachers. He earned this reputation during the 1880s when he encouraged students to make small clay models as props to help establish a painting’s composition, and stressed a thorough study of anatomy. For purposes of the latter, he made plaster castings of cadavers—such as Front of Male Torso, also on view (1880)—and of animals for use as drawing aids; these techniques and his life drawing classes from the nude scandalized the prevailing Puritan sensibilities of the time and led to Eakins being dismissed from teaching in 1886. It was not until 1892 that a formal sculpture department was established at the Academy, under the direction of Charles Grafly (1862–1929), who was a former student of Eakins. Grafly’s The Oarsman was
Fig. 4: Harry Bertoia (American, 1915–1978), Tonal, 1967. Cupronickel and brass. 72 1/2 x 11 7/8 x 11 7/8 inches. Courtesy of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; Harry D. Gilpin Fund, 1968.4.
modeled as a demonstration for his students in the summer of 1910 at his studio in Lanesville, Massachusetts.2 Although the intent of this sculpture appears to have been an anatomical study, it was cast in bronze and widely exhibited (Fig. 3). In the early twentieth century, the Academy’s sculpture curriculum was expanded to include stone carving, plaster casting, and architectural competitions. A wide variety of modern techniques were later added to the curriculum, all of which continue to be taught to this day. Modern sculpture currently on view includes Jacques Lipchitz’s (1891–1973) small bronze Sketch for Massacre: Maquette No. 1 (circa 1945), Leonard Baskin’s (1922–2000) monumental oak carving Seated Woman (1961), and Harry Bertoia’s (1915–1978) melodious metallic abstraction Tonal (1967; Fig. 4). The first of its kind in the region, the Sculpture Study Center is open to the public, available for drawing and study to students and faculty, and will serve as a superb resource for research on American sculpture. A site for discovery and inspiration, the Sculpture Study Center is a welcome addition to the venerable galleries at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

Lynn Marsden-Atlass is senior curator at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. She recently oversaw the reinstallation of the Academy’s Historic Landmark Building and the inaugural exhibition In Full View: American Painting and Sculpture (1720–2005).

1 Susan James-Gadzinski and Mary Mullen Cunningham, American Sculpture in the Museum of American Art of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 1989), 17.
2 Pamela H. Simpson, “The Sculpture of Charles Grafly,” Ph.D. diss., (Newark, Del.: University of Delaware, 1974), 349.

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