Think You Care About the Super Bowl? Philly and Boston’s Biggest Museums Have Bet Masterpieces on the Game

Check out what paintings could be heading to enemy territory!

The Philadelphia Museum's portrait of Ben Franklin has taken the field—and the crowd goes wild! (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images; portrait illustration courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art's Instagram page)

Even if you’re not a football fan, there’s another reason for art lovers to get excited about the New England Patriots taking on the Philadelphia Eagles in Minneapolis on Sunday. Getting into the Super Bowl spirit, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Philadelphia Museum of Art have made a little wager: The city that wins gets a painting from the loser’s collection. Hot game, indeed.

Yes, it’s only a loan, but it’s certainly exciting that such excellent museums have something riding on the game. Both institutions have gone old-school Americana, offering up canvases by early American greats depicting the Founding Fathers (or Mothers). Pennsylvania is risking Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky (1816) by Benjamin West, while Boston has bet on Mrs. James Warren (Mercy Otis) (c. 1763) by John Singleton Copley.

Ahead of the game, the two museums engaged in some heated art-world trash talk:

“These choice works selected for the wager are exceptional paintings within the collections at their respective museums, both evocative of the historical significance of their home cities,” explained the Philadelphia Museum in a statement. “Pass the cheesesteak and hold the clam chowder as Philadelphia takes on Boston.” Oh, snap.

John Singleton Copley, <em>Mrs. James Warren (Mercy Otis), c. 1763. Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

John Singleton Copley’s Mrs. James Warren (Mercy Otis), c. 1763. Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

“It’s not every day that Philadelphia goes head to head in a Super Bowl against Boston. To show our support for the Eagles, we decided to put some skin in the game,” added Philadelphia director Timothy Rub, who approached his Boston counterpart, Matthew Teitelbaum, with the idea. “The MFA’s superb portrait of Mercy Otis Warren by John Singleton Copley would be great to have in Philly for a while. It’s just spectacular. And if we have to send Benjamin West’s portrait of Benjamin Franklin back to his native city for a few months, we’ll be fine with that. Let the best team win!”

“We decided that our great female Patriot Mercy Otis Warren would be perfect to represent Boston. We’re not worried though–we know Mercy will never have to make the trip. We think Ben Franklin will look wonderful in our galleries after the Patriots win on Sunday,” countered MFA public relations director Karen Frascona in an email to artnet News. “Ben is from Boston, so we’ll make him feel right at home!” An art-world burn if there ever was one.

Riley the bug-sniffing Weimaraner at the Museum of Fine Arts, gets into the Super Bowl Spirit. Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts.

Riley the bug-sniffing Weimaraner at the Museum of Fine Arts, gets into the Super Bowl Spirit. Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts.’

The battle isn’t limited to verbal smackdowns. The MFA has also lit up its façade in Patriots red, white, and blue, while the Philadelphia Museum has replaced ads for its exhibitions with letters spelling Eagles hanging between its entrance columns.

The two institutions aren’t the first to get swept up in Super Bowl madness. Following the Broncos’ 2014 loss, the Denver Art Museum lent the Seattle Art Museum Frederic Remington’s bronze sculpture The Broncho Buster. The following year, Seattle temporarily parted ways with Albert Bierstadt’s Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast (1870), which went to the Clark Art Institute, in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

If you can’t wait for the big game on Sunday, the two home museums will be facing off on Twitter later today in the second annual Museum Bowl. (As you’ll see above, the MFA has already turned Franklin into a football-wielding Patriots fan, and gotten Riley, their adorable new bug-sniffing dog, to don threaten a stuffed Eagles toy.) It all goes down at 3 p.m. Eastern Time, under the hashtag #MuseumBowl.

Until then, you can always check out the stars of last year’s game, including Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady, recast as the subjects of classic paintings—or just check your Fantasy lineup, if that’s your thing.


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