Philip Pearlstein was born and grew up in Pittsburgh and in 1944 enrolled at the Carnegie Institute of Technology. He spent three years in the Army and then returned to school, graduating in 1949 with a B.F.A. He pursued graduate studies in art history at New York University and received a Master's Degree in 1955.
A key figure in the sharp-focus realist movement, he was a leader in the early 1960s of the revival of figure painting in America. He experimented briefly with landscapes and then concentrated on the realistic depiction of the nude figure, a traditional subject that had almost vanished from the contemporary art world. His work is characterized by a non-traditional informality, unexpected postures and unusual perspectives including the radical cropping of figures. In his later works, he introduced rather elaborate backdrops including richly patterned fabrics and decorative floor patterns.
Pearlstein's work is in over seventy museums collections in the United States, including the Art Institute of Chicago, The Cleveland Museum of Art, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art and Whitney Museum of American Art amongst others. The Milwaukee Art Museum honored him with a retrospective exhibition in 1983 and accompanied the exhibition with a monograph on his complete paintings. He recently showed at the Century Association, New York; Frye Art Museum, Seattle; Galerie Haas, Zurich; and Galerie Haas & Fuchs, Berlin, Germany.