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Benjamin Franklin Parkway Fountain, photo by Mike Keenan

An Art Lover's Weekend in Philadelphia

© by Mike Keenan

It doesn't get any better than an "Art Lover's Weekend" in Philadelphia, featuring a terrific triple-header: The Barnes Foundation , Rodin Museum and Museum of Art . Add a ballet production with two world premieres and a stay at The Hotel Palomar Philadelphia, a 24-story Art Deco property, housed in the 80-year-old American Institute of Architects building! Modeled on Paris, Philly has much more to offer than the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall , and although we did visit the latter, art was our prime focus. In fact, art is ubiquitous here with Philadelphia second only to aforementioned Paris for public art.
     The new Barnes building displays the world's largest collection of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and early Modern paintings including 181 Renoirs , 69 Cézannes , 59 Matisses and 46 Picassos , saving one a costly trip to Europe. The Philadelphia Museum of Art's collections include more than 225,000 pieces, considered among the world's best. The Rodin Museum is unique in North America. Philadelphia also boasts outdoor mural art, inspired as a productive way to deal with graffiti with a 1% rule of private development budgets geared to the Mural Arts Program conducted throughout the neighborhoods and featuring the likes of Philly's Patti LaBelle.
     Friday: After delicious flaky pastry at Miel Patisserie, a French bakery just off of Rittenhouse Square , close to the hotel, we reduce our caloric intake with a long walk to the end of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and the Philadelphia Museum of Art which could easily take all day to explore. After ascending the steps featured in the " Rocky " movie, we limit ourselves to the Asian wing, with installations of a Japanese teahouse, Indian temple hall and Chinese nobleman's reception room. Across the street, the recently opened Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building is a mix of 1927 Art Deco and skylit concrete modernism, reserved for special exhibitions that often focus on design fields such as textiles, furniture and fine crafts.

Detail, Fountain at Philadelphia Museum of Art, photo by Mike Keenan    Metropolitan Museum of Art, Head of a Woman in limestone by Modigliani, photo by Mike Keenan   Philadelphia City Hall photo by Mike Keenan    Philadelphia Mural Art, photo by Mike Keenan   Philadelphia Museum of Art, Rocky Balboa steps, photo by Mike Keenan

     In the afternoon, we walk a few blocks along the Parkway towards Philadelphia's remarkable City Hall, topped by an Alexander Milne Calder sculpture of city founder William Penn . We reach the Rodin Museum, housing the largest public collection of the master's works outside of Paris, including The Thinker and The Gates of Hell . Amidst formal gardens, we watch artists sketching myriad sculptures. It's so very quiet and contemplative here.
     Then, in contrast, we visit the world's largest LED video wall at the new Comcast Center , followed by late lunch at Table 31, a restaurant that blends steakhouse cuisine with Italian regional dishes.
     We consider an evening return to the Philadelphia Museum of Art because Friday evening, there's live music, film showings and special gallery talks and tours. However, we pass and head downtown to check out a shimmering collaboration between Philadelphia's original "painter of light" Maxfield Parrish and glass artisan extraordinaire Louis Comfort Tiffany . The Curtis Center's Dream Garden is a marvelous mosaic crafted of 100,000 pieces of favrile glass in some 260 colors accentuated by pink salmons and sky blues.
     For dinner in Old City on the outskirts of the animated neighborhood, the striking Union Trust serves steak as the prime order. This old bank building has been transformed into a cathedral-like setting with a jewel-toned design, both luxurious and soaring. We do much more walking at night, feeling quite safe despite Broad Street's reputation for bullies circa '70s coach Fred Shero and his nasty Flyers hockey team.
     Saturday: we breakfast at the nearby bustling Reading Terminal Market's Dutch Eating Place, opting for a heaping stack of blueberry pancakes. The market stalls are fun to explore from tasty bakeries to cheese purveyors and hand-twisted pretzels.

Philadelphia, Comcast Building, photo by Mike Keenan    Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Liberty Bell, photo by Mike Keenan   Rodin Museum Garden, photo by Mike Keenan    Rodin Museum, Philadelphia Sketching Rodins The Kiss photo by Mike Keenan   Rodin Museum, The Kiss, photo by Mike Keenan

     Next, we walk to Love Park , near the Fairmount Park Visitors Center, to embark on a 90-minute ride on the city's elevated train line or "the el" as it's known to locals. This is part of the Mural Arts Program's Love Letter Mural Tour , a unique public art project that features the work of Stephen Powers who has crafted a series of 50 murals to resemble old-style billboards that trace one particular fellow's courtship of a fortunate lady.
     After lunch on the fly, it's the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts where Frank Furness ' tour-de-force starts outside with mansard roofs, terra cotta and arches coalescing into a magnificent whole. Inside, we view the work of past students and teachers such as Charles Willson Peale , Mary Cassatt , Thomas Eakins and Maxfield Parrish, plus other American masters like Winslow Homer . Across the street, a new wing spotlights contemporary artists and features a great gift shop.
     Next, we hit Amis , the newest entry from celebrated chef Marc Vetri , a former James Beard Award winner and favorite of Food & Wine. This is a lively trattoria that features kitchen-side seating and butcher-block tables. The menu offers hearty Italian fare.
     It's a short stroll to the Avenue of the Arts, where live music and theater abounds. Visitors may choose from opera or ballet at the Academy of Music , the Philadelphia Orchestra , chamber music, jazz or pop at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts or theater at the Wilma Theatre or the Suzanne Roberts Theatre , home of the Philadelphia Theatre Company .
     At the Wilma Theater we watch BalletX perform two of seven scheduled world premieres, guided by co-founders and Artistic Directors, Christine Cox and Mathew Neenan . The dancing is powerful, modern and daring.
     Sunday: after visiting Whole Foods for breakfast, we navigate around the corner for a tour of Barnes, saving the best for last. Designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien who formed their New York-based collaborative practice in 1986, hundreds of Impressionist paintings are hung in the idiosyncratic fashion favored by Albert C. Barnes , who established the Foundation in 1922 to promote art appreciation. It's a treasure we will not forget. Afterwards, a quick trip to Independence National Historical Park with its free attractions, the Liberty Bell Center and Independence Hall, and we return back home on an art lover's high!

The Barnes Foundation, photo by Mike Keenan
The Barnes Foundation

Bruce Springsteen/Streets of Philadelphia

Photo Credits
Mike Keenan

Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review, Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine.
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Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philadelphia
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Wikivoyage: http://en.wikivoyage.org/wiki/Philadelphia
The Barnes Foundation: www.barnesfoundation.org
Big Bus Tours: www.phillytour.com
Dutch Eating Place, Reading Terminal Market: www.readingterminalmarket.org
Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts: www.kimmelcenter.org
Love Letter Mural Tour, Love Park: http://www.visitphilly.com/mural-arts-program/
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts: www.pafa.org
Philadelphia Museum of Art, www.philamuseum.org
Mural Arts Program: http://muralarts.org/
Ruth & Raymond G. Perelman Building: www.philamuseum.org/perelman
Rodin Museum: www.rodinmuseum.org
Square 1682, Hotel Palomar Philadelphia: www.hotelpalomar-philadelphia.com
Suzanne Roberts Theatre: www.philadelphiatheatrecompany.org
Table 31, Comcast Center: www.table-31.com
Union Trust: www.uniontruststeakhouse.com
Wilma Theater: www.wilmatheater.org
About.com: http://philadelphia.about.com/od/uniquelyphil...
Fiction: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_of_Phil...
Films featuring: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Films...
Places of worship: http://www.yellowpages.com/philadelphia...
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