Monday, February 27, 2012


The Artist in His Museum, Charles Willson Peale, 1822

I wanted to take a minute to post about one of the lesser known historic attractions in Philadelphia, The Second Bank.  It is definitely my favorite tourist spot in the city as it combines a lot of my interests--Early American portraiture (it may surprise you to know), period frames, and is peppered with a just a dash of curiosities.  Located right next door to Independence Hall, it is one of the buildings included in Independence National Park and admission is absolutely FREE.  Photography (even flash photography!) is permitted and the Park employees are marvelous fonts of information.

Inside is an impressive and massive portrait gallery--nearly 200 works, mostly painted by Charles Willson Peale.  Peale was known not only for his masterful portraits, but also for opening the nation's first museum, which was at one time located on the second floor of Independence Hall.  The image at the top of this post is his self portrait set inside his museum (note:  this particular canvas is on view at PAFA--the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art founded by Peale--not the Second Bank).  In this image you can see his portraits displayed in a row near the ceiling and natural history exhibits below. His prize mastodon skeleton is on the right.  (And also of interest to me, after Peale's death P.T Barnum purchased the natural history exhibits for his own fledgling museum, while the paintings remained in Peale's family's care.)

The Second Bank pays homage to this display in its Peale room (below).

Interesting to note, these portraits are all in Peale's original signature frames -- love the gilded panel oval opening in rectangular frames.

John Witherspoon, Charles Willson Peale 1783-4

The Second Bank is also home to portraits of notable Americans by other significant artists, all in original frames.

Benjamin Franklin, David Martin 1767

William Penn, Henry Inman 1832 

George Washington, Rembrandt Peale 1848  (with gallery companion)

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