Founding of the Academy

“Promote the cultivation of the Fine Arts, in the United States of America, by [...] exciting the efforts of artists, gradually to unfold, enlighten, and invigorate the talents of our Countrymen.”—Academy Charter (December 26, 1805)

The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) was founded in 1805 by painter and scientist Charles Willson Peale, sculptor William Rush, and other artists and business leaders.

Since its founding, PAFA has collected works by leading American artists, as well as works by distinguished alumni and faculty of its school. From 1811 to 1969, PAFA also organized annual art exhibitions from which significant acquisitions were made. Harrison S. Morris, Managing Director from 1892 to 1905, collected contemporary American art for the institution. Among the many masterpieces acquired during his tenure were works by Cecilia Beaux, William Merritt Chase, Frank Duvenek, Thomas Eakins, Winslow Homer, Childe Hassam, and Edmund Tarbell. Work by "The Eight," which included former PAFA students Robert Henri and John Sloan, is well represented in the collection, and provides a transition between 19th- and 20th- century art movements.

The current museum building, known as the Historic Landmark Building, opened in 1876. Designed by the American architects Frank Furness and George W. Hewitt,  it was designated a National Historic Landmark in May 1975. As such, it is recognized as an important part of America's and Philadelphia's architectural heritage. The collection is installed in a chronological and thematic format, exploring the history of American art from the 1760s to the present.

Today, PAFA maintains its strong collecting tradition with the inclusion of works by modern and contemporary American artists such as Jennifer Bartlett, Richard Diebenkorn, Nancy Graves, Alex Katz, Philip Pearlstein, Robert Motherwell, Raymond Saunders, and Frank Stella. Acquisitions and exhibition programs are balanced between historical and contemporary art, and the museum continues to show works by contemporary regional artists and features annual displays of work by PAFA students. 

Did you know that PAFA used to be incorporated and individuals were able to buy stock? Read more about PAFA Stockholders


PAFA Charter

Articles of Association, Dec. 26, 1805, of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

The Subscribers, Citizens of Pennsylvania, having associated for the object and purposes herein-aftermentioned, and under the name conditions and articles following, are desirous to acquire and enjoy the power and immunities of a Corporation or body politic in Law, agreeably to the Act of Assembly in such case made and provided.

The object of this association is to promote the cultivation of the Fine Arts, in the United States of America, by introducing correct and elegant Copies, from works of the first Masters, in Sculpture and Painting, and, by thus facilitating the access to such Standards, and also by occasionally conferring moderate but honorable premiums, and otherwise assisting the Studies and exciting the efforts of the artists, gradually to unfold, enlighten and invigorate the talents of our Countrymen.

The name of this Association shall be The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

A President and twelve Directors of the Academy shall be elected by the Members, by ballot, on the first Monday of May in each Year. The President shall ex-officio be one of the Board of Directors. The Board of Directors, five of whom shall form a quorum, shall have power to appoint a Secretary, Treasurer, and such other officers and attendants as they shall think necessary.

The Directors shall prescribe the manner and terms of admitting new members, shall procure and use in their corporate Acts, a common Seal, and shall have power to make such rules regulations and by-laws, as they shall think proper to promote the objects of the Institution. The Corporation have power to purchase, or take on ground rent a suitable lot or piece of ground, and erect thereon a suitable building, or buildings, for the purposes of the Institution; to procure casts of the best statues and busts, to dispose thereof, and such paintings, drawings, and other specimens of the Fine Arts, as the Corporation may become possessed of, or as may be sent for Exhibition, in such manner as to display them to the best advantage, and regulate the prices of Admission to the Exhibition; to offer premiums in Sculpture, Painting, and Engraving and generally to do all such things as shall be conducive and beneficial to the objects of the Institution. No alienation of real estate belonging to the Corporation shall be made for a longer term than seven Years, except by a resolution of the members, convened at a General Meeting.

A General Meeting of the Members may be called by order of the Directors, or at the request of any six Members, signified in writing to the President, on at least six days notice, in two of the public newspapers printed in the City of Philadelphia. The Treasurer's accounts shall always be open to the inspection of the Board of Directors, or a general meeting of the Members, or a Committee appointed at such general Meeting.

Witness our Hands this twenty sixth day of December in the Year of our Lord One Thousand eight hundred and five.

  • James Oldden, Jun.
  • Henry K. Helmuth
  • John Redman Coxe
  • Will. Poyntell
  • Jos. Reed
  • Peter S. Du Ponceau
  • W. Lewis
  •  Wm. Tilghman
  • Samson Levy
  • Thos. Barton Zantzinger
  • Henry Pratt
  • John B. Wallace
  • Thos. Weidman
  • Lewis Neill
  •  Saml. Meeker
  • John K. Helmuth
  • Charles Smith
  • Joseph Lownes
  •  Edw. Penington
  •  D. Watts
  • Edw. Burd.
  • William Smith
  • James Hopkins
  • Benj. R. Morgan
  • John Hallowell
  • John R. Coates
  • Plun. F. Glentworth
  • Philip Wager
  •  Peter Wager
  • James Tatem
  • Walter Kerr
  •  Wm. Rush
  • Jacob S. Waln
  • Henry Kuhl
  • C. W. Peale
  • Rem. Peale
  •  Charles Clark
  • Andw. Bayard
  • T.P. Garesché
  • G. Clymer
  • W. Rawle
  • Jos. Hopkinson
  • Simon Gratz
  • Geo. Fox
  • Ch. Chauncey
  • Charles Swift
  • Saml. Ewing
  • Thomas Bradford, Jun.
  • Wilson Hunt
  • Moses Levy
  • J. B. McKean
  • A. J. Dallas
  • William H. Tod
  • Hor. Binney
  • Richard Rush
  • C.W. Hare
  • John Read, Jun.
  • James Gibson
  • Wm. Meredith
  • J. Dorsey
  • W. S. Biddle
  • Richd. Peters, Jun.
  • Walter Franklin
  • Samuel Shoemaker
  • Mahlon Dickerson
  • J.W. Condy
  • Zalegman Phillips
  • Peter A. Browne
  • Robt. Frazer
  • James Milnor
  • Chas. Biddle

To the Judges of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania I, Joseph B. McKean attorney general of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania do hereby certify that I have perused and examined the above instrument of association and am of the opinion that the objects articles and conditions therein set forth and contained are lawful. Witness my hand this twenty sixth day of December one thousand eight hundred and five.

We certify that we have perused and examined the above instrument and are of opinion that the objects articles and conditions therein set forth and contained are lawful. Witness our hands in open court this twenty eighth day of December one thousand eight hundred and five.

To his excellency Thomas McKean, Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania