The Rise And Development Of The Art Museum As A Cultural Institution: The Philadelphia Story

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Communication and Rhetorical Studies


David Tatham


Fine Arts, Pennsylvania

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities


The purpose of this study is to trace the roots and early development of the American art museum, basing the investigation on museum developments in Philadelphia between 1776 and 1876. Two basic trends are apparent from the earliest museum activity: first, a general museum tradition fostered by the classical ideal of the mouseion; and secondly, a specific fine arts tradition reflecting more of the galleria.

The introduction presents a brief history of museums from their classical roots through the beginnings of the moern museum. The body of the dissertation is divided into three parts. The first American museums were general museums, and Part I (1776-1815) examines Charles Willson Peale's Philadelphia Museum, the most representative Enlightenment-inspired museum, as well as a number of less ambitious museums. Developments in the general museum were paralleled by the growth of a separate fine arts tradition. In particular, the founding of the Pennsylvania Academy (1805) helped lay a foundation for subsequent art activities in Philadelphia.

Part II (1815-1860) studies the change of emphasis from the ideals of the Enlightenment to a popular-based democracy with middle-class standards determining politics, education, and culture. Serious collecting fell to scholarly institutions, and the fine arts enjoyed a dramatic increase in activity with the Pennsylvania Academy functioning as an important center. Peale's Museum remained Philadelphia's pre-eminent museum, and a number of minor museums combined collections with light entertainment.

After the Civil War, privately-owned general museums degenerated into entertainment pandering to the simplest taste. Part III (1860-1876) examines the trend in museums towards specialization and a more scientific approach which coincided with a greater sophistication in art, a broader base of appreciation, and a pool of wealthy patrons. The Centennial stimulated renewed activity in the arts and museums, and in 1876 the Pennsylvania Museum (now the Philadelphia Museum of Art) was incorporated as a direct result. In short, the modern art museum was founded upon an evolution that combined the ideals of the Enlightenment, a democratic zeal for the dessemination of knowledge to both the elite and broad public, and the gentility, status, and civic responsibility of the art patrons of the late nineteenth century.


Surface provides description only. Full text is available to ProQuest subscribers. Ask your Librarian for assistance.