Philadelphia – For Brothers. For Sisters. For Love

A lovely coincidence it was, two Greeks in their first trip outside New York, to a city with a Greek name. From philos > φίλος > friend and adelphos  > αδελφός > brother; who knows what Penn was thinking when he named her. One thing is sure, he did have good intentions. 

Philly sparkled as she waived goodbye that night. Penn would have been proud.

February 25th, 2017

Philadelphia – A City Street || An Institution

Albert Barnes taught people to look at works 
of art primarily in terms of their visual relationships.

The Barnes is home to one of the world’s greatest collections of impressionist, post-impressionist, and modern European paintings, with especially deep holdings in Renoir, Cézanne, Matisse, and Picasso. Assembled by Dr. Albert C. Barnes between 1912 and 1951, the collection also includes important examples of African art, Native American pottery and jewelry, Pennsylvania German furniture, American avant-garde painting, and wrought-iron metalwork.

The minute you step into the galleries of the Barnes collection, you know you’re in for an experience like no other. Masterpieces by Vincent Van Gogh, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso hang next to ordinary household objects—a door hinge, a spatula, a yarn spinner. On another wall, you might see a French medieval sculpture displayed with a Navajo textile. These dense groupings, in which objects from different cultures, time periods, and media are all mixed together, are what Dr. Barnes called his “ensembles.”

In this spirit, here is an ”ensemble” of my own, a compilation of images from the up and coming Comcast Technology Center – with its dangerous-looking platform lift – and the Barnes Foundation. Photography inside the galleries is not permitted and, for once, I understand. With its small rooms and artworks arranged over the entire length and width of the walls, the ”ensembles” are not easy to capture – at least not by the casual photographer.

The Barnes Foundation

February 25th, 2017

How to order a steak

In 4 easy steps.  There are a lot of good addresses for Philly cheesesteaks nowadays but if you value tradition, there can be only one: Pat’s King of Steaks. Original home of the steak sandwich invented by its founder, Pat Olivieri, in 1930, the place is still owned by the same family. The sandwiches (we got them wit) are utterly delicious.Philadelphia
9th Street & Passyunk Avenue

February 24th, 2017

Philadelphia – The Ben Franklin Bridge

Dear Ben is omnipresent in Philadelphia. Monuments, museums, his memorial, this bridge, they all honour one of America’s most illustrious figures.The bridge named after Benjamin Franklin spans across Delaware River and connects two Cities and two States: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Camden, New Jersey. It can be crossed by car, train, bike or, like we did, on foot. Around 1,3 miles or 30′ walk, longer if you pose to take photos, soak up the views, try to identify Philly’s tall buildings in the background or just take deep breaths of fresh air. Or maybe watch a game.Camden Waterfront, on the other side, was undergoing a major redevelopment and didn’t look too welcoming at the time so we just turned back without exiting the bridge. 

The Ben Franklin Bridge

February 24th, 2017

Philadelphia – The House of Edgar Alan Poe

For all its charm and history, Elfreth’s Alley was not our destination – just a passage to Philadelphia’s most poetic home. A thirty minute walk beyond the Expressway to an area I wouldn’t like to find myself after dark, and there it was. Poe lived in different houses during his six-year residence in Philadelphia, but this is the only one still standing. Poe lived here with his beloved wife Virginia and devoted mother-in-law Maria Clemm who was an excellent housekeeper, a great help to the couple especially while Virginia was in declining health. The house is stripped bare; no objects or furniture belonging to Poe because nothing was left behind when the family moved on to their next home in the Bronx. Only drawings and period photographs indicate how it would have looked back then.  Narrow staircases and tiny rooms always make me wonder how much we and our living spaces have expanded over the years.
The cellar, that is said to have been described in “The Black Cat” (1843), a short story written here, in Philadelphia. The reading room, the only furnished one in the house and decorated according to Poe’s ”The Philosophy of furniture”. A library with the full body of Poe’s work is available and visitors are warmly encouraged to sit comfortably and indulge to their heart’s content. Plan ahead though: admission is free but the house is open only Friday through Sunday, from 9am – 12noon, and 1pm -5pm. And they do take their lunch break seriously! Edgar Allan Poe’s House
532 N. 7th Street

February 24th, 2017

Betsy Ross & Elfreth’s Alley

Leaving the ”Keys to Community” in the capable hands, or should I say bust, of Mr. Franklin we followed Arch Street towards 2nd Street, finding some quaint little shops along the way.

To Betsy Ross’ House. Ms Ross was a seamstress, credited with sewing the first American flag – to Mr. Francis Hopkinson’s design, as we learned from his epitaph earlier. While no proof exists of Ms. Ross’ accomplishment, the fact remains that she is a beloved figure and her legend lives strong. And, right across her house, a giant flag. Can you get more patriotic than that? 

Yes, you can – by way of preserving your city’s history for generations to come. Like Elfreth’s Alley. Connecting N 2nd Street with N Front Street, it has been there since the 1700s – the oldest residential street in the United States, only because of the efforts of its very residents. Built by merchants and tradesmen to house their families, later welcoming working class immigrants, today impeccably preserved by its community of artists, artisans, educators and entrepreneurs. A street with its own history, its own architecture and website, a little world of its own.

With the most charming dwellers, indeed.

February 24th, 2017

Philadelphia – Benjamin Franklin

Back in Philadelphia, on to more agreeable sights, starting with Benjamin Franklin’s resting place, in Christ Church Burial Ground. The great man sleeps close to other patriots and prominent figures like Francis Hopkinson, designer of the first official American flag:

And Gerald Connely, a Seaman, Soldier, Safecracker. Wait… Safecracker?!? Was Gerald Connely Philadelphia’s most prominent crook? A quick research showed that actually, Connelly was a world-class locksmith who was cooperating with the FBI whenever his expertise was needed. He was also a very funny guy who knew, when we was writing his parting words, that he would get people looking twice.

Finally, Mr. Franklin. He was just 22 when he wrote his epitaph. I wonder what made a man think about writing an epitaph at such a young age:

On the way out, a fire engine, descendant of the service that Franklin helped create in 1736, the Union Fire Company, one of the first volunteer firefighting companies in America: 

Here is Mr. Franklin again, his bust sculpted by James Peniston, covered with casts of 1.000 keys collected from local schoolchildren. ”Keys To Community” also contains several brass nameplates representing Philadelphia firefighters fallen in the line of duty since 1736: Philadelphia
February 24th, 2017

Two angry faces – in the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Both belong to Renée, drawn by French artist Jacques Villon.

Villon, also known as Gaston Duchamp, was one of Marcel Duchamp’s siblings but, in order to distinguish himself from them, he started using the pseudonym with which he became known.

Renée was the daughter of Villon’s cousin and the subject of several works by the artist.

Doesn’t she look angry in these drawings? I wonder what – or who – could be responsible for this frown on her face.

Renée. Three Quarter View, 1911. Jacques Villon

Renée. Three Quarter View, 1911 (detail). Jacques Villon
Renée. Full Face, 1911 (detail). Jacques Villon
Renée. Full Face, 1911 (detail). Jacques Villon

Philadelphia Museum of Art
February, 22nd 2017


Philadelphia – Museum of Art

Vast in size, rich in collections with major works from European, American and Asian artists, from paintings and prints to decorative items and furniture, it will require at least three hours for a ”quick” overview – and that includes the main building only. For the museum manages several annexes such as the Rodin Museum and the Perelman Building across the street, which is why your ticket will be valid for two consecutive days – in case you have the stamina to visit them all (which we didn’t).

The images below show a very brief part of what you can expect to see in the museum; I skipped most of the paintings in favour of objects and furniture that got my attention.

The Greek Revival facade.
Diana, 1892-1893, in gilded copper sheets by Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Diana is arguably the best-known work of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who was recognized at the turn of the century as the country’s finest sculptor. When installed in 1893 on the tower of New York’s Madison Square Garden to serve as a weather vane, Diana ruled the highest point in Manhattan. The sculpture’s gilded form caught the sun during the day and was illuminated at night by the city’s first electric floodlights. Madison Square Garden was demolished in 1925 and the Philadelphia Museum of Art adopted the sculpture in 1932. Diana has reigned as the goddess of the Museum’s Great Stair Hall ever since.
From a Tapestry showing Constantine Directing the Building of Constantinople, 1623-25. A composition designed by Peter Paul Rubens. Detail showing that some things never change.
High Chest of Drawers, 1740-50. Curly maple, red pine. Armchair, 1745-55. Walnut. All made in Philadelphia.
Butaca Chair, 1730-70. Mahogany, original leather upholstery and brass. Probably made in Mexico.
Fireplace, Doorway and Pair of Andirons, ca. 1936-37. Carved oak, stone, copper hearth, iron. Made by Wharton Esherick, American 1887-1970, in Pennsylvania.
White oak and seed beads from the Mandala Series (on the wall), 2013 and 2016. A collaboration between David Ellsworth and his wife, Wendy Ellsworth, a seed bead artist. Burned and pained ash spheres (on the floor), symbolizing form in motion, from the Solstice Series, 1990-91. David Ellsworth. All made in Pennsylvania (Quakertown).
Window. Created for Magee Rehabilitation Hospital, installed 1983. Forty porcelain tiles washed with copper salts, each handcrafted and applied to frosted glass; wood frame. Made in Philadelphia by Rudolf Staffel.
Line Ascending #5, #10, #11, from the Emergence Series 2013-15. Oak burl, black ash burl. Made by David Ellsworth in Pennsylvania (Quakertown).
Furniture, part of a lavishly ornamented suite made in Philadelphia for the house of merchant William Waln and his wife, Mary Wilcocks Waln. Imitating ancient Greek and Roman furniture, sumptuously painted, gilded and upholstered in the latest style of the time. Designed in 1808 by Benjamin Henry Latrobe and made by John Aitken.
Furniture, part of a lavishly ornamented suite made in Philadelphia for the house of merchant William Waln and his wife, Mary Wilcocks Waln. Imitating ancient Greek and Roman furniture, sumptuously painted, gilded and upholstered in the latest style of the time. Designed in 1808 by Benjamin Henry Latrobe and made by John Aitken.
Secretary Bookcase, 1827. Mahogany, mahogany veneer, stained burl ash, white pine cedrela, red cedar, yellow poplar, dark wood stringing, brass, gilt decoration; glass doors and pulls; brass lock. Made in Philadelphia by Anthony G. Quervelle.
The Clinic of Dr. Agnew, 1889. Oil on canvas, by Philadelphia’s very own, Thomas Eakins.
The Japanese Aesthetic was introduced to Americans following Japan’s opening to international trade in 1854. Favouring asymmetry, flat patterns and unfamiliar materials and colour harmonies, it presented a refreshing alternative to that of the West. Here, the reflection of Eakins’ Clinic of Dr. Agnew is a harmonious bridge connecting the two aesthetics.
The Concert Signer, 1890-92. Oil on canvas by Thomas Eakins. Determined to suggest the sound of her voice and the emotions it invoked, Eakins asked his friend, soprano Weda Cook, to pose for hours while repeatedly singing the same few notes from ”O Rest in the Lord” by Felix Mendelssohn. Upon the painting’s completion, Eakins had these notes carved into its fame.
The Annunciation, 1898. Oil on canvas by Henry Ossawa Tanner.
Follette, 1890. Oil on cardboard by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
Oh, look!… another Fourteen-Year-Old Little Dancer, by Edgar Degas. If I don’t see one in a major museum, I will begin to worry.
When the room becomes the canvas.
The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass) by Marcel Duchamp. A work of art to be looked both at and through, prompts the Museum of Art Handbook – and I made sure to follow the instructions. Duchamp started working on it in 1915 and stopped in 1923 stating that it was ”definitely unfinished”. A few years later, while in transit from an exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum in 1926-27, the two panels were shattered. Ten years would pass before Duchamp repaired the glass. Satisfied with the result and appearance of the eerily symmetrical cracks in the upper and lower sections, he declared the work finished!
Marcel Duchamp’s alter ego.
Homage to Juan Gris, 1953-54. A box construction by one of America’s most intriguing artists, Joseph Cornell.


I hope you enjoyed this very brief and – admittedly- subjective tour of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Coming up next, two angry faces.

February 22nd, 2017