The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where I had the privilege of studying as a painting major, is the oldest art school in the United States. Modeled after the academic schools of Europe, it has a long tradition of training American artists and a correspondingly long history of collecting American art for its associated museum.
The school and museum share a web site, which has just been completely redesigned and rearranged, and it is now much easier to browse the museum’s extraordinary collection. The collection is particularly rich in beautiful 19th Century paintings.
You can search for individual artists, view their paintings, sculpture or works on paper separately, or view all works together. You can also simply browse the collection as a whole by the same criteria, a delightful exercise that will lead you to unexpected treasures. In addition you can browse by artist, medium or period.
My one complaint (as usual) is the size of the images. There are larger versions associated with most of the works, and though adequate for getting a feeling for the work, still much smaller than they need to be for real appreciation. Hopefully that will be supplemented with additional images or some kind of image zooming feature in the future.
In the meanwhile, once you find a piece you like, you can search the web for additional images or information on that artist (here’s a great new visual search engine, SearchMe, that has an interface like the Mac “Cover Flow” system used on their new OS and on the iPhone/iPod Touch, and makes visual browsing more efficient).
Even better, of course, if you have the option, is to visit the Academy here in Philadelphia, where they always have a superb selection form the permanent collection on display in the beautiful Furness building.