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The Portrait Gallery at the Second Bank – a hidden treasure

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August 18, 2013   ·   2 Comments

Charles Willson Peale, Thomas Jefferson.  At the Second Bank Portrait Gallery

On July 4 the Park Service opened the Second Bank building on Chestnut Street. It contains Charles Willson Peale’s original 18th century museum. I was very impressed. Have you seen it? Most of Peale’s paintings are there, I believe. There’s a scattering in the big national museums but this is like the Rodin museum: It’s definitive and effing amazing.

Charles Willson Peale, Thomas Jefferson.  At the Second Bank Portrait Gallery

Charles Willson Peale, Thomas Jefferson. At the Second Bank Portrait Gallery

The Peale museum is just one of the locked-away treasures in Philadelphia. Jefferson’s house, formerly open three hours a week, has closed permanently because of the sequestration. Most Americans find the Civil War more interesting that the Revolution. No one demands to see these places.

The Portrait Gallery installation at the Second Bank, image courtesy of the Second Bank website.

The Portrait Gallery installation at the Second Bank, image courtesy of the Second Bank website.

The Portrait Gallery at the Second Bank, which is part of the National Park Service, is between 4th and 5th on Chestnut St.

–artblog contributor Michael Andre is moving from Philadelphia to Princeton at the end of August, 2013.

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2 Responses to “The Portrait Gallery at the Second Bank – a hidden treasure”

  1. Andrea Kirsh says:

    I’m delighted to read that someone else has discovered the portraits at the Second Bank Building. It is one of the best museum displays in the city. A couple of corrections are in order. The National Park Service does not have Charles Wilson Peale’s museum collection. If you know the painting at PAFA in which he draws back a drape to reveal the museum’s contents, it primarily functioned as a natural history collection with a taxidermied turkey and other native birds, mastodon bones, fossils, geological specimens, etc., all arranged according to the most modern scientific classification of the time. What is on view at the Second Bank is Peale’s collection of portraits of important men of his day, which were hung as a frieze, high above the glass cases of natural material. Peale painted them himself, and the excellent labeling describes his ongoing search for a lifelike way to portray flesh. The Second Bank also displays a varied collection of portraits of a number of Philadelphians around the time of the country’s founding. They are arranged around topics — commerce, education, politics– and many of the portraits’ sitters had personal and/or professional relationships, which the display notes. It is a particularly imaginative and interesting way of exhibiting a portrait collection.

  2. Michael Andre says:

    I have been writing a history of the museums of Philadelphia for over a year, Andrea. Another year in the libraries of Princeton and I should have the matter clear. Roberta has patiently sat through draft after draft — after draft. The note on the Second Bank was really just an email to her.

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