Born in 1924 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, after service in World War II, Philip Pearlstein studied art at Carnegie Institute of Technology (Carnegie Mellon). After graduation he moved to New York City to pursue a career in the field of graphic design. Parallel to that career he pursued painting on his own, and studied Art History at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, earning an MA in Art History in 1955, the same year he joined the artists’ co-op Tanager Gallery on Eighth Street, and was included in the exhibition, “Emerging Artists,” selected by the critic Clement Greenberg. In 1956, Pearlstein published his first major article in Arts Magazine, on Francis Picabia (the subject of his MA thesis), and had his first one-man exhibition at the Tanager Gallery. He spent the year 1958-59 was in Rome, Italy, on a Fulbright Grant. Subsequent honors include an Artists Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, 1968; a Guggenheim Fellowship, 1971; and Artist in Residence at the American Academy in Rome, 1982.
In 1959 he began his teaching career at Pratt Institute (1959-63), Yale University (Visiting Critic, 1962-63), and Brooklyn College (1963-1988). In 1982 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, serving as President (2003-2006).
Pearlstein has written and lectured extensively. Since 1955 his work has been written about and reproduced widely and featured in over 140 solo exhibitions and over 300 group exhibitions in the United States and abroad, as well as represented in over 70 public collections.