Ardor For The Arts

In 1763, when Franklin wrote a friend that “the Arts delight to travel westward,” Philadelphia was last becoming the indisputable art center of America, a distinction it retained through the first decades of the nineteenth century. Benjamin West had already opened a London studio to which aspiring colonials soon came in a long, steady parade for guidance from the great man. Many of them returned to Philadelphia to enjoy the liberal atmosphere and to profit from the encouraging patronage of the Quaker city. The amazing versatility of a man like Francis Hopkinson was a symptom of the vigorous cultural activity of the city, which explored all avenues of expression from saucy ballads and light verse to scholarly polemics and serious drama. When the Chestnut Street Theater opened in 1794, Philadelphia became the theatrical capital of the country and remained so for a generation to come.