Well, New York City really has it all (oh yeah); that much is true. One of the many millions of reasons that living in Manhattan totally rules is that, should you wish to seek adventure beyond the city limits, it is possible to make an awesome Day Trip to another city located in an entirely different state! You can’t do that from LA, that is for sure. The NYC Day Trip is a thing to be taken advantage of and enjoyed as often as possible. Because sometimes, if you do your homework, you can experience an entire lifetime in one day.
For a couple of years, my Art Husband Geoffrey and I have yearned to visit the Barnes Foundation, an art museum in downtown Philadelphia with an amazing backstory that we learned all about from watching the highly polarizing 2009 documentary The Art of The Steal — a film that we both absolutely loved. When a friend of Geoffrey’s posted on FaceBook about taking a day trip from NYC to The Barnes, we decided to do some investigating of our own.
Surprisingly, a ticket to downtown Philadelphia from Port Authority via Peter Pan Bus Lines is just $40 round trip, including fees, and the journey is a quick 2 hours each way (depending on traffic). We were super excited by this discovery and scheduled our trip for an upcoming Sunday. Departing from Port Authority at 8:30 AM and arriving — 20 minutes ahead of schedule — at 10:10 AM, our return trip home was booked for 7:30 PM, giving us a full day to explore the City of Brotherly Love. Day Trip!
We didn’t have our ‘city legs’ yet, so we grabbed a waiting cab from the bus station to The Barnes ($10) and arrived shortly before it opened at 11:00 AM, ready to begin our adventure! Here’s some background information on the Barnes Collection, so that you can get an idea of why this place is so special.
The Barnes was founded in 1922 by Dr. Albert C. Barnes, a chemist who made his fortune by co-developing Argyrol, an antiseptic silver compound that was used to combat a variety of ailments. He sold his business, the A.C. Barnes Company, for $6 Million Dollars just months before the stock market crash of 1929. The artworks you see in the museum represent Dr. Barnes personal collection, which he meticulously curated during his lifetime. As we learned from eavesdropping on several tours we passed during our visit, many paintings in the collection were commissioned by Barnes from famous artists whom he developed personal friendships with.
Originally located in a residential neighborhood in Merion, located about five miles outside the city, the art collection was moved en masse in 2012 to a new building on Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia. In its new home, the art is on permanent display exactly as Barnes intended, in a series of galleries meant to recreate the house in Merion. Today, the foundation owns more than 4,000 objects, including over 900 paintings, estimated to be worth about $25 billion. These are primarily works by Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and Modernist masters, but the collection also includes many other paintings by leading European and American artists, as well as African art, antiquities from China, Egypt, and Greece, and Native American art and jewelry. The paintings collection is most notable for its inclusion of 181 Renoirs, 69 Cézannes, 59 Matisses, 46 Picassos, and 16 Modiglianis.
In addition to its vast permanent collection, The Barnes also hosts temporary, rotating exhibits. On the day we visited, they were just wrapping up an exhibit of artworks by Pierre-August Renior and his filmmaker son, Jean Renoir. I admit that neither Geoffrey nor I had realized that the two were related.
We were surprised to see so many paintings in which Jean served as his father’s model. In this painting from 1901, Jean is dressed as the sad clown Pierrot, a character from the popular Italian theater known as Comedia Dell’Arte.
Sketch of Scenery for the Jean Renoir Film Elena and Her Men, or Paris Does Strange Things (1955) By Jean Andre
In addition to his films, which often referenced motifs from his father’s paintings, Jean Renoir also created simple but beautiful ceramics.
Matisse Triptych in Main Gallery, With Detail, Below
After enjoying the Renoir exhibit, we moved on to explore the series of many galleries housing the permanent collection, where this Matisse triptych is installed.
The Barnes Collection is arranged in a manner that is different from any other museum or gallery. Albert Barnes taught people to look at works of art primarily in terms of their visual relationships, including colors, lines, light and space. Therefore each gallery can contain an eclectic mix of artists and styles. Although the museum building is just six years old at this point, it lacks a modern ‘White Cube’ design because it is meant to emulate the collection’s original setting inside a suburban residence.
Barnes also collected wrought-iron objects. Spatulas, door handles, hinges, keyhole coverings and the like are interspersed among the paintings throughout the galleries.
The collection includes many pieces of antique furniture, which are placed to enhance the gestalt experience of whatever gallery they are in.
Even the small table top items, such as dishes and vases, are part of Barnes‘ collection.
One of Barnes‘ close friends was an artist named William Glackens, whose works he also collected. When Glackens went to Paris in 1912, Barnes gave him money to purchase some paintings for him while he was there. One of those first works was Van Gogh’s The Postman, (which you will see later in this post). It was those first works that Glackens bought on Barnes’ behalf that created the start of The Barnes Collection. However, after that, Barnes primarily relied on his own eye to select works for his collection.
This Portrait Of Albert C. Barnes circa 1926 was painted by the Italian proto-Surrealist Giorgio de Chirico, who is one of my very favorite painters. There are many de Chiricos in the collection.
I enjoyed spotting them!
The Barnes has one of the worlds’ largest collections of works by Italian Jewish painter Amedeo Modigliani under one roof. His style of portraiture, which was influenced by African masks, is highly recognizable. See if you can spot the Modigliani in the following two photos.
If you know much about the work of Vincent Van Gogh, then you will likely recognize the painting above, on the lower right, which is one of the series of portraits painted by Van Gogh of Postman Joseph Roulin in 1889, and one of the first major works purchased for the collection. Imagine being wealthy enough to own this painting in what was once a private collection. Now, try to wrap your head around having the wealth that enables you to own hundreds of paintings this valuable. As an aside, my brother-in-law owns a production company in Los Angeles that worked on the Opening Gala for the new Barnes. He told me that there is a painting in the collection that is worth more than the entire new museum building cost to build! Wow!
On the right side of this room you will see an excellent example of Picasso’s work during his Blue Period. And look, there’s another Modigliani. Because he is everywhere.
Of the 69 works in the collection by French Post-Impressionist painter Paul Cézanne, the ones above and below are possibly my favorites.
Here a few other paintings that really caught my eye.
A vase of flowers by Henri Rousseau. Stunning.
Here’s another one by Rousseau, which I love a lot. Albert Barnes had phenomenal taste, no question.
This exquisite vase of flowers is by another Henri — only this time it’s Matisse!
Here’s a young lady in a blue dress by Claude Monet. I can’t even stand how beautiful this is.
In this photo Life Imitates Art: as a man wearing a red shirt sits on a bench near a painting of a man wearing a red shirt while sitting on a bench! Art!
I enjoy this painting of a woman’s face by Paul Klee, and the one below it, whose artist I do not know. You can see though how the two paintings are linked thematically. While Geoffrey and I love to explore Art Museums on our own terms, I definitely recommend joining at least part of one tour while you are inside The Barnes, as the docents are incredibly knowledgeable. And don’t be afraid to start up a conversation with another visitor, either. Many Philly locals have been to the original Barnes and are happy to fill you in on its rich history.
We had an amazing time at The Barnes, and if you love art as much as we do, you simply must plan a trip. You can get a pretty good feel for the lay of the land in a couple of hours, but of course you can say much longer if you are really into pausing to study and appreciate every single painting. On the other hand, if you don’t have much time, I’d say two hours is going be the bare minimum span of a visit to have quality experience. I am looking forward to future visits!
This sculpture by the late Pop artist Robert Indiana is located at 210 N 18th Street, just a block from The Barnes. We passed it as we made our way south to begin the art adventure that would occupy the second half of our trip: a self-guided walking tour of Philadelphia’s many public murals. Our direct route took us along Benjamin Franklin Parkway, a scenic boulevard which runs for one mile between the Philadelphia Museum of Art and City Hall. The Parkway is home to many examples of historic architecture, parks, fountains and public art, and it is also the spine of Philadelphia’s Museum District. It is worth noting that the only reason we did not run up and down the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art — as Sylvester Stallone’s character does in the film Rocky – is that we had to head in the opposite direction. Another time!
If you have no fixed agenda, you could spend the entire day just exploring the sites, shops and attractions along Ben Franklin Parkway. Make sure you stop at Logan Circle, also known as Logan Square, which is a large traffic circle with a park. This is where you will find the very beautiful Swann Memorial Fountain.
The three river figures in the Swann Fountain are by sculptor Alexander Calder.
Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul (Above and Below)
Another urban oasis located nearby is JFK Plaza, which is known as Love Park.
There’s a fountain in Love Park also, but for some reason I neglected to get a photo.
The plaza is nicknamed Love Park after this Robert Indiana sculpture, which I am guessing you are already familiar with. It is likely featured in every tourist snapshot and selfie taken in this park.
We finally reached City Hall!
At this point we were ready for lunch, and popped in to the Philadelphia Downtown Marriott for directions, a quick AC break, and a cup of refreshing cold water available for free in the lobby! Their friendly concierge advised us that the best Cheesesteaks in town can be found at Steve’s Prince of Steaks, which has locations all over the city. The Steve’s closest to us was the City Center location at 41 S. 16th Street. It took us about ten minutes to walk there.
As we walked to Steve’s, we saw a man walking down the street carrying a large stuffed Duck on his head.
All the locals go to Steve’s Prince of Steaks, and you can see why.
Behold: The Steve’s Steak sandwich loaded with lean, sliced grilled steak with grilled onions, and oozing melted provolone cheese — plus tomatoes that Geoffrey rejected from his sandwich because they did not meet his standards of ripeness — his loss! This cheesesteak sandwich cost around $10 and it was worth every cent. It made me feel very full and satisfied, but I would have gladly eaten a second one had it been offered to me for free. Because it was fucking delicious.
There is so much great public art in the city that I was stopping every block to take a photo of one thing or another.
This monumental sculpture of a Clothespin (1976) in Centre Square is by Claes Oldenburg. Philadelphia is home to four Oldenburg public artworks; more than any other city in the world!
Having refueled with our delicious sandwiches from Steve’s, we were ready to walk off our lunch and immerse ourselves in local culture with an epic street art adventure: a self-guided walking tour of Philadelphia’s epic outdoor murals, which is known as the Mural Mile. As preparation for our tour, I had already downloaded an easy-to-follow street map at This Link. The city is laid out on a gird so, as long as you have your bearings, it is very easy to navigate. Depending on how much time and energy you have, you can choose from two routes on the map. Mural Mile South covers the area south of Market Street to Lombard Street and back, along the recently revitalized 13th Street corridor. Mural Mile North will take you by murals and other public artworks north of Market Street into Old City, through Chinatown and around City Hall. We did both routes in about 2 hours and change. Here are a few of my favorite murals, and other sites, that we saw on our walk!
This colorful abstract mural is called Start From Here, by Isaac Tin Wei Lin, and it wraps around two sides of a large parking lot.
Start From Here, Detail
Mural Outside the Fire Station for Engine 21, Ladder 23 in Chinatown
Work Unites Us Mural and Detail, Below
Be sure to pause and observe any nature you may pass on your walk. You might get a nice surprise!
This is the office of Philly Cam Community Access Media. The building façade features this vibrant tile mosaic pattern with a Pop-Art look. Very nice!
My favorite murals were the ones that took over an entire side of a building or row of houses, creating a unique suburban camouflage.
This 8 -Bit Flowering Trees design is by artist David Guinn.
If you find a sign like this, it will tell you how to dial up an audio tour on your cell phone! Helpful!
This piece, Women In Progress, honors the accomplishments of women. Yay!
This dude is having some kind of interesting dream, I think.
This Ceramic Tile Mosaic Mural, which includes many found and recycled objects, is located in an alleyway. Check out some details, below.
Close to the end of our art walk, we recognized this piece by one of our favorite NYC-based street artists, Kenny Scharf! It’s on a building adjacent to the Graffiti Bar (124 S 13th Street).
Take a quick walk down the narrow side alley that leads to Graffiti Bar’s back patio, which is dense with the written wisdom of customer’s past, to find some good Instagram fodder, like the piece below.
Heavy. Needless to say, but you can see I am about to, I enthusiastically recommend the Mural Mile walk as a top activity to do while visiting Philadelphia. Not only do you see lots of amazing art, but you get to visit many different parts of the city as well, which is always more fun than driving around in a bus. However, if your mobility is impaired, a variety of curated Trolley Tours are can be booked for $28 to $32 per person by visiting This Link. Whatever you have to do, just make sure you go!
We still had 2 hours to kill before we had to be back at the bus station, so we retreated to the air-conditioned haven of El Vez Mexican Restaurant, located at 121 S. 13th Street, for a tasty snack and a refreshing cocktail. They have a fancy Oscar De La Hoya custom bike mounted above the bar, and the bar stool seats all have Charo’s face on them! Festive and fun!
I ordered a Frozen Blood Orange Margarita, which tasted just as good as looks.
When was the last time that you shared an order of Guacamole and Chips with a friend that was so huge you could not even finish eating it? Never, you say? This was a first for me as well. Geoffrey and I noshed on this luscious guac and crispy chips for over an hour and never hit the bottom of the dish. At just $14, it was quite a good value! While we got a little buzz on, we enjoyed sharing stories of our day’s adventures with the locals we met while sitting at the bar. Philadelphia is a very friendly city. When it was time to head out to the bus station, the bartender pointed us in the right direction and it turned out to be just a ten minute walk from the bar. It could not have been easier!
We had all kinds of crazy fun in Philadelphia, and I can’t wait to go back again. If you plan a trip, I hope that the tips in this post will help you to have a super fun time!