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Philadelphia – An Art Lover’s Dream

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Written by Colleen Pero.

If Philadelphia doesn’t come to mind when you think of world-class art, think again! In March, I was fortunate to escort a Kresge Art Museum trip to Philadelphia, and can personally attest to what this dynamic city has to offer the art aficionado.

Wanting to get the most out of our weekend excursion, we opted for a Friday morning flight out of Lansing which, with a connection in Detroit, would get us into Philadelphia in time to visit the Rodin Museum en route to the city. Founded by Jules E. Mastbaum, a Philadelphia philanthropist for the purpose of enriching the lives of his fellow citizens, this museum not only finished bronzes but plaster studies as well as drawings, prints, letters, and books. The museum, which opened to the public in 1929, houses 124 sculptures, including bronze casts of the artist’s greatest works: The Thinker, perhaps the most famous sculpture in the world and The Burghers of Calais, his most heroic and moving historical tribute.

After our Rodin Museum visit, we were off to our hotel, the Radisson Plaza Warwick Hotel, located just off the world-renowned Rittenhouse Square in the city’s most prestigious neighborhood. It was just footsteps away from numerous cultural and historical attractions, fashionable shops and boutiques, as well as award-winning restaurants. Having planned ahead, we were treated to dinner at the Acorn Club, a private women’s club which was formed in 1889 for the promotion of literacy, and musical and artistic tastes. However, there are many wonderful restaurants in the downtown area from which to choose!

Saturday began with a private early morning tour of Degas and the Dance at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. What a treat to be able to view the entire exhibit before the museum even opened to the public! For those of us who missed the exhibit when it was showing at the Detroit Institute of Art, this was a highlight of our weekend!

Of course, the Philadelphia Museum of Art has an outstanding permanent collection and is world-famous for its major holdings of Western and Asian art dating from the Middle Ages, its Rodin sculptures, early Italian Renaissance paintings, medieval arms and armor, and its collection of 19th and 20th-century works from Thomas Eakins to Constantin Brancusi. The collection also includes Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, Cézanne’s Large Bathers, Renoir’s Great Bathers, Picasso’s Three Musicians and Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase. So there was plenty for each of us to search out after our Degas tour.

After a short break for a special lunch at the delightful Merion Cricket Club, in Haverford, Pennsylvania, we were on way to the Barnes Foundation which houses one of the most important private collections of Impressionist/Post-Impressionist and early modern art in America. The Foundation’s collection includes works by such artists as Renoir, Cézanne, van Gogh and Picasso. Note: if you visit the Barnes Foundation during the late spring, summer or fall, build in time to stroll the grounds of the Foundation, a twelve-acre arboretum with an extensive grouping of rare and specimen shrubs and trees.

Sunday began with a special visit (they opened it just for us) to the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology-featured as one of the “10 great” science museums. The many highlights include a 12-ton sphinx and monumental architectural remains from the ancient Egyptian palace of Merenptah.

From the Museum, we proceeded to the Brandywine Valley, a region renowned for its fine gardens and museums. After a beautiful drive through the country, we arrived in northern Delaware, where we enjoyed lunch at the private Greenville Country Club. (It was the scene of the wedding of Eugene’s daughter, Ethel t o Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr. in June of 1937.)

Next on our agenda was the Winterthur Museum and Gardens, a nine-story mansion originally owned by Henry Francis du Pont. Determined to share with the public his vast collection of Americana, du Pont founded Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library in 1951. But du Pont did more than establish a great museum and naturalistic garden. In a single lifetime he created an extraordinary American country estate on par with English examples that had evolved over centuries. The museum houses paintings by Charles Willson Peale, furniture by Townsend and Goddard, Paul Revere silver and Chinese porcelain.

Visiting the Winterthur mansion is like becoming immersed in another place and time. This world-class museum, with its unsurpassed collection of antiques and Americana, is the ideal place to rediscover America’s heritage. In the inspiring architectural surroundings of the Period Rooms, you will view magnificent vignettes of antiques celebrating the finest in style and craftsmanship. The permanent exhibitions in the Galleries at Winterthur invite exploration and discovery. From a collection of more than 85,000 objects made or used in America between 1640 and 1860, Winterthur curators have crafted displays that focus on specific media.

Winterthur, like the Barnes Foundation, has a wonderful physical setting. There was snow on the ground during our visit, and though sunny, the air was cold. I personally am looking forward to a return trip in order to tour the 200-acre naturalistic gardens (either by foot or by garden tram).

We had specifically planned our weekend to coincide with the Philadelphia Flower Show, the largest and most beautiful indoor flower show in the world, featuring ten acres of colorful floral displays. Again, our advanced planning was important in that we were able to enter the show at 7:30 a.m., have a guided tour, and pick out our own personal favorites before the doors opened to the general public at 10 a.m. If you have any interest in flowers, this is a must-do for your future travels!

For lunch, we took a break from the Flower Show and go to the Reading Terminal Market, a 105-year-old farmers market housed on the ground floor of a restored train station. One of the top tourist destinations in the City of Philadelphia, the market offered something for every taste for lunch. After lunch, there was plenty of time to return to the Flower Show or visit any of the other extraordinary sites of downtown Philadelphia.

When gathering at the airport for our late-afternoon flight home, it was clear that everyone had a wonderful time in Philly. It was amazing just how much we had seen and experienced in our weekend trip. Of course, doing so required lots of planning…much of it having taken place months in advance! So if you have a weekend in mind, give us a call… we’ll make it worth your while!