Selections from the Charles Knox Smith Collection
Always on View
Founder’s and Parlor Gallery
Charles Knox Smith, founder of Woodmere Art Museum, believed that collecting art was a noble journey with a moral, spiritual, and patriotic dimension. Born in 1845, the defining political and social event of Smith’s life was the Civil War, and his collection is grounded in the social context of post Civil War Philadelphia. Certain works of art tell stories that are directly tied to the war, like Sarah Fisher Ames’ extraordinary marble bust, Abraham Lincoln (n.d.), which is among the greatest treasures of Smith’s collection.
Other works of art tell stories of nobility and self sacrifice, such as Benjamin West’s The Fatal Wounding Sir Philip Sydney (1806), and Edward Harrison May’s Lady Jane Gray Going to Her Execution (1864). Smith was a devout and pious man, and he collected landscape paintings by such great American artists of the 19th century as Frederic Edwin Church, Jasper Cropsey, and Edwin Darch Lewis that expressed the cycles of day and night, life and death, and the spirituality of nature.
Founder’s Gallery Renovations
Woodmere’s founder, Charles Knox Smith (1845–1916), collected world-class paintings and sculpture and transformed his estate to showcase and share his art. Since Woodmere opened to the public as a museum in 1940, the core of Smith’s collection has been shown in our Founder’s Galleries, which were originally the parlor, sitting room, and stair hall.
In June 2012, we renovated these spaces, focusing on Smith’s original architectural and design decisions. The project included the restoration of Woodmere’s “Edison ceiling” of the 1890s, so named for the installation of modern electric lighting. Smith was most proud of this feature, which allowed him and others to view the collection at night. Additional renovations included refinishing woodwork, restoring historic cut-glass windows, and rehanging the collection.
Woodmere is most thankful for the support of the William B. Dietrich Foundation for making these renovations possible and helping us to preserve these important historic spaces.
Image: Founder’s Gallery, c. 1915