Thursday, September 3, 2009


L to R: Young Eakins at age 22, Eakins at about age 35
and Eakins at about age 45
© 2002-2008 PAFA

Thomas Eakins at age 35-40
Photo courtesy of Charles Bregler' Thomas Eakins Collection
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center

Thomas Eakins circa 1882
Image from

Thomas Cowperthwait Eakins was born on July 25, 1844, in Philadelphia. After his graduation from Central High School, he studied for 5 years at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he drew chiefly from casts. To make up for his lack of study of living models, he entered Jefferson Medical College and took the regular courses in anatomy, including dissecting cadavers and observing operations.
In 1866 Eakins left for Paris, where he went through 3 years of rigorous academic training at the École des Beaux-Arts under Jean Léon Gérôme. He also traveled in Italy and Germany. In December 1869 he went to Spain, In Madrid's Prado Museum his discovery of 17th-century Spanish painting, especially the work of Diego Velázquez and Jusepe de Ribera, came as a revelation after the insipidity of the French Salons. After a winter in Seville, Eakins went back to Paris. In July 1870 he returned to Philadelphia, where he would live for the rest of his life, never going abroad again.
Eakins now took for subjects the life of his place and period, Philadelphia of the 1870s; and with uncompromising realism he built his art out of this. His first American paintings were scenes of outdoor life in and around the city--rowing on the Schuylkill River, sailing and fishing on the Delaware River, hunting in the New Jersey marshes--and domestic genre picturing his family and friends in their homes. These works revealed utter honesty, a sure grasp of character, and an unsentimental but deep emotional attachment to his community and its people. From the first, they had the strong construction, the sense of form and of three-dimensional design, and the complete clarity of vision that were to mark Eakins's style thenceforth.
During the 1870s rowing became a tremendously popular sport in the United States. An enthusiastic rower, the young Thomas Eakins painted, sketched, and drew an extraordinary series of rowing pictures that were the most ambitious project of his early career. Eakins' 24 rowing works, which include some of the most celebrated and recognized images in the history of American art, are brought together and examined as a group for the first time. Together they shed light on the artist's creative process and subsequent achievements as well as on social, cultural, and artistic concerns central to nineteenth-century audiences.

The Pair-Oared Shell
Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
Image from

John Biglin in a Single Scull
Oil on canvas, 1873-74
24 5/16 x 16 inches
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut
Image from the Artchive

Max Schmitt in a Single Scull
Oil on canvas, 1871
Metropolitan Museum of Art, Manhattan
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center

October in Philadelphia is a beautiful time of year. Thomas Eakins’ painting, The Champion Single Sculls (Max Schmitt in a Single Scull), above, perfectly captures a perfect Philadelphia October day. Yet this painting is not just a pretty picture; it is packed with significant imagery and it made an impact on the art world and on the world of sports.
1. Thomas Eakins believed that the painter’s job was to specify what time it was, what month it was, and where the weather was heading, as well as what kind of people were there, what they were doing, and why they were doing it. In The Champion Single Sculls, it is around 5 p.m. on October 5, 1870, and the star of the painting is Max Schmitt, a childhood friend of the artist, resting after his victory in a rowing tournament on the Schuylkill River.
2. This painting, the first of 24 rowing paintings that Eakins completed over the course of 4 years, was the first time rowing was the focus of serious art. However, the stuffy Philadelphia critics didn’t take well to Eakins’ subject matter, even though rowing was, at the time, one of the most popular sports. A critic remarked that his subject matter was “a shock to the artistic conventionalities of the city.”
3. Eakins captured many Philadelphia features in the painting, including the Schuylkill River, which ran near his home; the Girard Avenue Bridge and the Connecting Railroad Bridge; and mansions (Egglesfield and Sweetbriar) from two different eras.
4. The rower directly behind Schmitt is Eakins himself. His name and the year are printed on the back of his boat. Other background features include a red canoe occupied by two rowers accompanied by a coxswain in traditional Quaker garb; a locomotive about to cross one bridge; and a steamboat downriver.
5. A poem titled “The Mystery of Max Schmitt,” written by Phillip Dacey in 2000, is based on the painting and is spoken from Schmitt’s point of view. It contemplates the changes the popular sport was about to undergo.
(By Andréa Fernandes at

Sailboats Racing on the Delaware
Oil on canvas, 1874
24 x 36 inches (60.96 x 91.44 cm)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center

Watercolor on paper, 1875
Public collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center

Watercolors such as Drifting were not conceived as independent works or studies for paintings, but rather as works done after paintings. The artist may have been creating watercolor copies of his oils to take advantage of the new vogue for the medium. While they mirror the meticulous detail of the paintings, their luminescent quality is very different from the oils they often follow. The watercolors are suffused with light supplied by the white ground of the paper and feature subtle atmospheric effects--qualities that frequently eluded Thomas Eakins in his great subject paintings, whose dark tonalities troubled the artist and were often the target of contemporary criticism.
Drifting simply and directly captures the play of light across the water and on the sails of the boats. Eakins reduced the scene to a few basic elements: the shoreline; a tall, dark sail silhouetted against the sky with the hull of another boat positioned at an oblique angle behind it; and a small boat with a white sail in the right foreground. Although Drifting would not have required the complex calculations needed to depict the foreshortening of the racing shells seen in his well-known rowing images, the artist may have used perspective sketches to calibrate the wave patterns and the recession in space toward the horizon line. The extraordinary detail in this work may also owe something to Eakins’ experiments with photography.
(Copyright © 2009 National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.)

Baseball Players Practicing
Watercolour, 1875
10 3/4 x 12 3/4 inches (27.50 x 32.58 cm)
Museum of Art, Providence
©2007 19c Base Ball

"Baseball Players Practicing," 1875, above, a well-known watercolor (on paper) by Thomas Eakins (American, 1844-1916) is in the collection of The Museum of Art at the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Rhode Island. It measures 10¾ x 13 inches. The players depicted are members of the Athletic of Philadelphia BBC (National Association of Professional Base Ball Players). Batting is first baseman Wes Fisler and catching is, most probably, John Clapp. The location is the Jefferson Street Grounds, also known as Athletic Base Ball Grounds, in Philadelphia. This same field was the site of the first National League game played on April 22, 1876 when the Boston BBC, sometimes referred to as the "Red Caps," defeated the Athletic BBC 6-5.

The Gross Clinic
Oil on canvas, 1875
96 x 78 inches (243.84 x 198.12 cm)
Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia
Image from

Composition study The Gross Clinic, 1875
Source scan from art book
Author Thomas Eakins
From Wikimedia Commons

Thomas Eakins was aged thirty-one and had never before attempted such an ambitious composition when he requested Dr. Gross, then seventy years old and at the pinnacle of his profession in 1875, to approve his conception for a portrait of the physician in his surgical clinic. The young artist's confidence must have stemmed from his knowledge of anatomy and his prior experiences in the medical environment. He hoped to establish his professional reputation by displaying this heroic work in the art gallery of the upcoming Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, which aimed to celebrate American progress and excellence. Gross exemplified these patriotic ideals.
The graphic scene of clinical instruction takes place in a surgical amphitheater, the upper lecture room of Jefferson's Medical Hall. The commanding figure of Samuel D. Gross stands at the apex of a group consisting of his surgical assistants, the patient, and the patient's mother. Seated to the left and behind Dr. Gross is a clinic clerk who records operative notes. In the background are tiers of students observing the proceedings. A table with bandages and a box of surgical instruments is in the foreground. The two figures standing in the tunnel are an orderly, on the left, and Dr. Gross's son, the surgeon Samuel W. Gross, on the right. The first figure seated to the right of the tunnel is a self-portrait of Thomas Eakins sketching or writing.
Professor Gross has turned away from the operative site to explain the procedure for removing a segment of diseased bone from the left thigh of the patient who suffers from osteomyelitis. The adolescent male patient lies on his right side on bright white sheets. His hips and knees are bent so that his body is greatly foreshortened. His buttocks and left thigh are the only exposed areas of his body. His feet are clad in thick gray socks. His head is concealed under the chloroform-soaked towel held by the anesthetist at the head of the operating table. Four other assistants (one is partially obscured behind Gross) hold a retractor or tenaculum to expose or probe the wound.

The Gross Clinic (Dr. Charles Gross), 1875
Image from

All figures but one are intensely engaged in participating in or observing the operation. The veiled woman, traditionally identified as the patient's mother, is so distraught that she shrinks away in horror, covering her eyes with tensely clenched, clawlike hands. Her fright is palpable although ironic, because her son's life was not in danger and the humane procedure would save his leg from amputation.
Like the other participants Dr. Gross is garbed in black business clothes, as was customary then. The forehead of his magnificently delineated head is bathed in light pouring down from the skylight above, his wiry hair creating a silver aura around his face. His angular features are sculpturally defined by the dramatic contrasts of bright light and deep shade. The painting's single bright color is the emphatic red of fresh blood oozing from the patient's wound and staining the surgeons' hands and linens. The blood is especially lustrous on Dr. Gross's right hand which holds a scalpel.
In Eakins's time most critics found the mother's gesture overly melodramatic. With few exceptions the critics and public complained that such an operation was an inappropriate subject for a painting, and the bloody scene too realistic to be accepted for display by polite Victorian society. The New York Tribune reporter said, "It is a picture that even strong men find it difficult to look at long, if they can look at it at all; and as for people with nerves and stomachs, the scene is so real that they might as well go to a dissecting room and have done with it."
The bold and innovative painting was rejected by the committee of selection for the Centennial's art exhibition, although five other Eakins works were accepted. Instead it was eventually shown at the U.S. Army Post Hospital, a model hospital that was an annex to the U.S. Government's display at the fair. This alternative site was probably found through the influence of Dr. Gross. He must have realized that The Gross Clinic's multiple portraits of Jefferson faculty members operating in the surgical amphitheater could further enhance the reputation of Jefferson Medical College in the history of American surgery. The painting was purchased by the college for two hundred dollars in 1878.
Ironically anticipating The Gross Clinic's popular success, Eakins copyrighted the work in 1876 and arranged for an unknown quantity of high-quality, photomechanical reproductions of it. He exhibited the reproduction a few times and gave several to friends. A recently discovered collotype in the Jefferson collection is signed by the artist and inscribed to Dr. Edward A. Spitzka, the professor of general anatomy from 1905 to 1914.
The Gross Clinic depicts a heroic physician calmly performing the multiple tasks of instructing students, training assistants, and operating on a patient. Today the once maligned picture is celebrated as a great nineteenth-century medical history painting, featuring one of the most superb portraits in American art. The monumental composition still has the power to shock viewers with the artist's bravura paint style and the bold matter-of-factness and immediacy of the action.

“Gross Clinic,” which came close to leaving Philadelphia
on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

The Gross Clinic
By sgerstacker at

On November 11, 2006 the Board of Trustees at Thomas Jefferson University agreed to sell The Gross Clinic to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas for a record $68,000,000, the highest price for an Eakins painting as well as a record price for an individual American-made portrait. On December 21, 2006, a group of donors agreed to pay $68,000,000 in order to keep the painting in Philadelphia.
((c) copyright

Professor Benjamin Howard Rand
Oil on canvas, 1874
60 x 48 inches (152.40 x 121.92 cm)
Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center

Less than four months after Philadelphians thwarted its bid to buy “The Gross Clinic,” an 1875 masterpiece by Thomas Eakins, an Arkansas museum founded by the Wal-Mart heiress Alice L. Walton has quietly purchased another much-loved Eakins painting from the Philadelphia medical school that sold the first. The canvas, the 1874 “Portrait of Professor Benjamin H. Rand,” is destined for the new Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, now under construction in Bentonville, Ark.
Like “The Gross Clinic” it depicts a revered doctor who taught at Thomas Jefferson University, which sold both paintings.
Dr. Rand, who once taught Eakins anatomy, donated his portrait to the university when he retired in 1877. Proceeds from the sale, which experts familiar with the deal put at about $20 million, went toward the expansion of its educational and research programs and development of its 13-acre Center City campus.
Marc Porter, president of Christie’s, the New York auction house, negotiated the deal on behalf of the university.
(Art Knowledge News)

The Chess Players
Oil on canvas, 1876
11 3/4 x 16 3/4 inches (29.85 x 42.55 cm)
Metropolitan Museum of Art, Manhattan
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center

Thomas Eakins is regarded by most critics as the outstanding American painter of the 19th century and by many as the greatest his country has yet produced. A pupil of J. L. Gerome, in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris, and also of Leon Bonnat, besides working in the studio of the sculptor Dumont, he became a prolific portrait painter. He also painted genre pictures, sending to the Centennial Exhibition at Philadelphia, in 1876, the Chess Players, above, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
(Adapted from Encyclopedia Britannica (1911) by
This small composition shows the artist's father, Benjamin Eakins (1818–1899), watching a chess game between his friends Bertrand Gardel (ca. 1808–1885), a French teacher, on the left, and George W. Holmes (ca. 1812–1895), a painter and art teacher, on the right. Thomas Eakins inscribed the painting in Latin on the drawer of the central table: "painted by the son of Benjamin Eakins 76." The artist's father is also the subject of The Writing Master. The setting for this work has been identified as the parlor of Eakins' home at 1729 Mount Vernon Street in Philadelphia. Related drawings are known. This work was first exhibited at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876 and was favorably received.
(Copyright © 2000–2009 The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

The Writing Master - Portrait of the Artist's Father
Oil on canvas, 1882
30 x 34 1/4 inches (76.20 x 87.00 cm)
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center

Baby at Play
Oil on canvas, 1876
32 1/4 x 48 3/8 inches (81.92 x 122.87 cm)
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center

Eakins was attracted to painting instants of contemplation, stillness, or pause between moments of violent activity (in the sailing, boxing, shooting, and rowing paintings), and instances of inward–turning contemplation (in the great portraits) because, like Capra, he wanted to explore the point at which one sort of eventfulness is replaced by another, the point at which meditative movements of the mind interrupt or impinge on the world of action and event.
Such a meditative moment can take many different forms in Eakins' work, just as it does in Capra's. The block-building infant giant of Baby at Play, above, is arrested at that precise moment at which action has been replaced by concentration, an absolute concentration of attention and effort in which one can feel the whole mind and spirit of the baby's truly monumental body poised and utterly concentrated on one square inch of building-block placement. The pyramidal composition of the painting combined with the effect of the mutually converging lines of the baby's arms, the pattern of bricks on the patio, the alignment of the toy horse-cart, and the downward concentration of the baby's attention indicated by the inclination of her head and the lighting on her face, absolutely focus the viewer's attention, like the baby's, on that arrested act of delicate, balanced placement. Everything in the painting is designed to communicate the complex, concentrated mindfulness of the baby at this moment and to contrast it with the slack prostration of the sawdust and rag doll thrown down casually behind her. The state of focused concentration embodied by the infant truly makes society (even the society of dolls) irrelevant.
The rowers, sailors, boatmen, and shooters who are the figures in Eakins' best-known paintings are caught at similar moments of concentrated, instantaneously arrested balance, but theirs is an even more complex act of mindfulness than the baby's, insofar as it usually involves the interaction of two or more figures in an event of mutual interaction, as when the Biglin brothers yaw their boat around a turning buoy, or a shooter and his boatman delicately balance an unstable flat-bottomed boat in position as a shot is fired....
(© Text Copyright 2003 by Ray Carney at

The Biglin Brothers Racing
Oil on canvas, 1873
24 1/8 x 36 1/8 inches (61.28 x 91.76 cm)
National Gallery of Art, Washington
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center

The Biglin Brothers Turning the Stake
Oil on canvas, 1873
40 1/4 x 60 1/4 inches (102.24 x 153.04 cm)
Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center

In the same year that he painted his 2½-year-old niece, Eakins joined the faculty of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. While there, he served on the commission that supervised Eadweard Muybridge's photographic studies of animal and human locomotion. The National Gallery of Art notes that, consistent with late 19th century ideas about education, “the baby has progressed from infantile pursuits to more advanced stages of development. By stacking up the blocks, the child practices language and motor skills.” Eakins conveys the child's intent by “arranging her into a solid, pyramidal mass...aligned geometrically with the toys, blocks, and paved walk.”
(Copyright © 2009 by the American Physical Therapy Association)

Starting Out after Rail, 1874
Oil on canvas mounted on Masonite
24 1/4 x 19 7/8 inches
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
From the Artchive

A May Morning in the Park, 1880
The Fairman Rogers Four-in Hand
Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

"The Fairman Rogers Four-in Hand," depicts a carriage ride in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park, one of the many works discussed in THOMAS EAKINS: SCENES FROM MODERN LIFE.

Fairman Rogers
Photo by Dufor Photographers at

Reenactment of Eakin's famous painting "Fairman Rogers" featured in the program THOMAS EAKINS: SCENES FROM MODERN LIFE, a production of WHYY/Philadelphia.

Portrait of Walt Whitman
Oil on canvas, 1887-1888
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center

When the Philadelphia painter Thomas Eakins met the poet Walt Whitman in 1887 (the poet was then residing in Camden, New Jersey, across the Delaware River), the two artists felt a kinship, and one result was this portrait (above). Eakins was the greatest American portrait painter of the later nineteenth century, and virtually the only major painter of the age, in America or Europe, to devote himself primarily to portraiture. Independently wealthy, Eakins reversed the usual patronage system and approached various Philadelphians to ask if they might sit for him. Many of his subjects were active professionals: by 1886 he had painted rowers, hunters, baseball players, musicians, singers, and surgeons. He usually offered the finished portrait to the sitter, who was often enough appalled at the result. Eakins`s portraits have an overtone of brooding solemnity and the faces of his subjects often seem burdened, strained, anxious. The overhauling energies of modern life combat their flesh. According to critic Elizabeth Johns, Eakins was portraying these active citizens as modern heroes.
Whitman was sixty-eight when he sat for this portrait and Eakins does not try to hide any of the years. Whitman`s complexion is ruddy but roughly sculpted; his eyes are dim and unfocused; his signature beard is looking a little dusty. If this is the poet-Santa Claus of legend, then it must be the morning of December 26. Whitman himself commented, "The Eakins picture is severe-keeps close to nature-slurs nothing-faces the worst as well as the best" (qtd in gopnik). Whitman`s approval suggests the close ties he shared with the painter in subject and method. Both were frank chroniclers of the modern people and things. Both wanted to portray the body openly and suffered criticism and rejection for their physical honesty.
Critic Adam Gopnik offers the following comparison between Eakins and Whitman:
If there is a lasting truth that Eakins` intense friendship with Whitman gives rise to, perhaps it has less to do with sexual politics than with the oscillating moods of American empiricism. Why does the passionate faith in things for their own sake, which is so ecstatic in Whitman ("Happiness not in another place, but this place . . . not for another hour, but this hour"), turn so sad in Eakins? Eakins believed in the here and now, but he didn`t get the happiness. Those endless lists of things in Whitman feel cheering, while the inventories of things in Eakins` paintings make us feel blue. Perhaps it is because, in writing, the nouns invest things with a human confidence-just by being named these things become part of our invented world and put under our power. Things painted for their own sake pass out of our control, back into a world of mute out-thereness.

Portrait of Letitia Wilson Jordan
Oil on canvas, 1888
The Brooklyn Museum, New York

In the spring of 1888, on the day after seeing Letitia Wilson Jordan at a party in Philadelphia, Thomas Eakins apparently told her brother, David Wilson Jordan, a friend and former student, that he wanted to paint her portrait as she had appeared the evening before. And so he did. It wasn't something he was commissioned to do, nor had he been planning for it or thinking about it, though it has been suggested that he might have been competing, however briefly, with fashionable artists like John Singer Sargent, who had recently toured the East Coast, in 1887, as an incredibly well-paid portraitist of wealthy patrons, particularly elegant ladies. Neither was it that Letitia Jordan fulfilled some ideal that Eakins sought to embody or promote. Beauty was essential to him, but only as it emerges, not as something one might seek in graceful contours, brilliant displays of color, and pleasing proportions, or seductive women (which is not to say that sexuality was not part of his regard for women, and men). Almost everything Eakins painted is dramatic. Light comes out of darkness. Action is understood as a suspension of motion. Figures loom in front of us, anticipating some kind of response or movement from us. With the exception of people he knew intimately--his wife Susan, his father-in-law William Macdowell, himself--Eakins' subjects look away, slightly or even craning toward something within the realm of the picture, including what we see within the picture space and what we don't see outside it. Letitia Jordan looks to our right and even seems to advance in that direction, to the right of us, past us, within herself and totally herself. We are also within the realm of the picture, seduced not by Letitia Wilson Jordan or her surroundings but by the artist. He has vectored us in, where he is.
(© Copyright 2009 New York Art World)

Cowboys in the Badlands
Oil on canvas, 1888
32 1/4 x 45 1/2 inches (81.92 x 115.57 cm)
Private collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center

Executed in 1888, Cowboys in the Badlands, above, has an estimate of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000 and has been widely exhibited and was included in the Eakins retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The auction catalogue at Christie's May 22, 2003 provides the following commentary:
"The last great landscape created by Thomas Eakins, Cowboys in the Badlands is a magnificent summation from a career of one of America's premier realist artists. Eakins demonstrated a new modern approach to the depiction of landscape, portraiture, and genre paintings that have become important representations in American art. The focused detail of the figures in the foreground, contrasted to the slightly out-of-focus distant landscape invokes a very modern approach to painting with the use of photographic effects to establish a blurred distance to reinforce an overwhelming sense of space. Cowboys in the Badlands is distinguished by the monumentality of the scene and its distinct sense of space. Intellectuals of the day were often preaching for the need to differentiate American art and culture from that of Europe. Western themed paintings effectively fit this attitude of American artists' seeking to depict a native, divergent landscape. In the present work, by choosing a raised vantage point, Eakins elevates the landscape to grandeur in part with the overwhelming scale of the canvas itself. The unique physical structures of the Badlands landscape seem to dissolve into each other as amorphous forms and diagonals lead the viewer deep into space. The overwhelming visual portrayal of this unique Western landscape is integral to the overall success of Cowboys in the Badlands."
(By Carter B. Horsley at

Cowboy Singing
Watercolor on paper, c.1890
Metropolitan Museum of Art, Manhattan
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center

Home Ranch
Oil on canvas, 1892
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center

Despite their similarities in size and subject matter, "Cowboy Singing" and "Home Ranch", above, are different in composition and painting style and cannot be considered works that meet the criteria for being "redundant or duplicate (with) no value as part of a series." Their differences in composition and execution make side-by-side comparison enlightening.
(Fropm ArtsJournal Weblog)

The Agnew Clinic
Oil on canvas, 1889
University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center

The following is an excerpt from an essay by Marc Simpson, entitled "The 1880s" in Thomas Eakins, Philadelphia: The Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2001, at
The decade of the 1880s ended on an ambitious note. In the spring of 1889, students from the University of Pennsylvania's School of Medicine commissioned Eakins to make a portrait of the retiring professor of surgery Dr. D. Hayes Agnew (1818-1892). They offered the painter seven hundred and fifty dollars to portray their teacher, who was acclaimed to be, as the Latin motto that Eakins carved on the finished work's frame asserted, "the most experienced surgeon, the clearest writer and teacher, the most venerated and beloved man." Eakins, accepting the project, countered their proposal with one of his own: "delighted to paint Dr. Agnew, (he) immediately offered to paint them, for the same sum, a clinic picture, with not only Dr. Agnew and his assistant physicians, but also portraits of the class." The resulting work, The Agnew Clinic, above, thus turned into an echo of The Gross Clinic of fourteen years earlier.
But Eakins did not reiterate the format of the earlier picture. Working now on a broad horizontal canvas--the largest of his career-- he placed his focal points across the foreground, Agnew isolated on the left, the nearly completed operation for breast cancer on the right. The scene's architecture and the collective weight of the auditors' faces --added to the white clothing of the doctors (principles of antisepsis had begun to take hold in American operating rooms)-- invariably focus attention on the foreground. The balance between Agnew's illuminated, rhetorical pose and the larger and more complex operation (where only the nurse's placid face, her presence another sign of modernization, is in the light) is evenly struck.
Eakins more distinctly limned the auditors, too, bringing them closer to the picture plane and lavishing care on their individual features. They are all--barring the figure of Eakins himself at the far right, which was painted by Susan Eakins-- identifiable as Agnew's students and collaborators....
It was in 1877 that Thomas Eakins painted a canvas showing the early Philadelphia ship carver and sculptor William Rush (1756–1853), working from a nude female model in sculpting a life-size allegorical figure. The only other figure present in the painting is an elderly woman knitting. Although there is no evidence the sculptor had worked from a nude model, Eakins believed study from the nude was essential and he stressed this in his teaching at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. The 1877 painting may have been intended to suggest that working from the nude was not unprecedented in Philadelphia. The inclusion of the elderly woman chaperone legitimized the activity of posing nude, making it clear that this model was a virtuous young woman from a good family.
Even so, for many Philadelphians of Eakins’ time the idea of such a person posing nude would still have carried an unmistakable implication of scandal. In 1886 Eakins was forced to resign his position at the Pennsylvania Academy, in part because his unrelenting emphasis on working from the nude had become a controversial topic in staid Philadelphia. Rumors circulated that Eakins had indulged in improper, even immoral behavior. The dismissal affected him deeply and he increasingly withdrew from Philadelphia art circles to pursue his art independently. By the early 1900s he was all but forgotten.
(Copyright © 2009 National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.)

Thomas Eakins
Self Portrait, 1902
From Wikimedia Commons

In 1894, after losing his teaching job at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) amidst a sexually charged scandal that would plague him the rest of his life, Thomas Eakins wrote: "My honors are misunderstanding, persecution & neglect, enhanced because unsought."
When the National Academy of Design in New York invited Eakins to join their organization, they asked him to submit a self-portrait. Eakins’ Self-Portrait (above, from 1902) shows the artist gone from riches to rags. His jacket is clearly worn in spots. He’s painted himself poorly shaved. His eyes seem sad rather than proudly brilliant. In this self-portrait, Eakins showed to the world the effects of the years of “misunderstanding, persecution, and neglect.”
(Bob at
Misunderstood and ignored in his lifetime, his posthumous reputation places him as "the strongest, most profound realist in nineteenth and early-twentieth century American art."
Late in life, Eakins did experience some recognition. In 1902, he was made a National Academician. In 1914, the sale of a portrait study of D. Hayes Agnew for the Agnew Clinic to Dr. Albert C. Barnes precipitated much publicity when rumors circulated that the selling price was fifty thousand dollars. In fact, Barnes bought the painting for four thousand dollars.
In the year after his death, Eakins was honored with a memorial retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and in 1917-18, the Pennsylvania Academy followed suit. Eakins' attitude toward realism in painting, and his desire to explore the heart of American life proved influential. He taught hundreds of students, among them his future wife, Susan Macdowell, African-American painter Henry Ossawa Tanner, and Thomas Anshutz, who taught, in turn, Robert Henri, George Luks, John Sloan, and Everett Shinn, future members of the Ashcan School, and artistic heirs to Eakins's philosophy. Even though Eakins struggled to make a living from his work, today he is regarded as one of the most important American artists of any period.
(New World Encyclopedia)

The Artist's Wife and His Setter Dog
Oil on canvas30, 1884-89
30 x 23 inches (76.20 x 58.42 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
From the Artchive

The Artist’s Wife and his Setter Dog c.1884–89 was completed shortly after Eakins’s marriage to Susan Macdowell in 1884, and is set in Eakins’s studio in Philadelphia. Susan was also a talented painter who studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts where she met Eakins in 1876.
(Queensland Art Gallery)

The Cello Player
Oil on canvas, 1896
64 1/4 x 48 1/8 inches (163.20 x 122.24 cm)
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center

The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts has sold what may have been its best Thomas Eakins: The Cello Player (above). The painting was sold to a private collector. Proceeds from the deaccessioning will be applied toward PAFA's co-purchase of Eakins' The Gross Clinic, which PAFA and the Philadelphia Museum of Art are co-purchasing from Thomas Jefferson University.
According to the Philadelphia Museum of Art's website (taken before The Cello Player sale) the two institutions have raised less than half of the painting's $68 million purchase price.
Eakins painted The Cello Player in 1896. It portrays celebrated cellist Rudolph Hennig, a Leipzig Conservatory product who moved to Philadelphia. PAFA purchased the painting for $500 in early 1897. It was Eakins' first museum sale since 1879 -- and he split the fee with Hennig. The painting was included in the Met's just-closed Americans in Paris 1860-1900 show. (Explanation: The painting helped Eakins earn an 'honorable mention' at the 1900 Exposition Universelle).

Portrait of Susan Macdowell Eakins
Mrs Thomas Eakins
Oil on canvas, c.1899
20 1/8 x 16 1/8 inches (51.12 x 40.96 cm)
Smithsonian Institution, Washington
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center

It is rare that: a famous artist can be "rediscovered" after a century of scholarship comprised of hundreds of monographic and thematic studies. Thanks to one of Eakins Academy students, Charles Bregler.
One of the most devastating events of Eakins' life was his 1886 dismissal from the Pennsylvania Academy. This ugly departure followed tensions surrounding the artist's inflexible teaching methods and insistence on study from the fully nude human body (dead and alive) even for students only interested in learning to paint landscapes or teacups. Bregler was one of Eakins' students at the Academy committed to his master and incensed at this turn of events. Bregler's devotion to his teacher continued for the rest of his life.
When Eakins' widow Susan Macdowell, above, died in 1938, much of the artist's work remained in his fourth-floor studio in the Eakins family home, where he had lived since his boyhood. Shortly before the house was to be sold, Bregler made one last visit and found the floor littered with the artist's studies, considered too inconsequential at the time to merit attention and preservation. Bregler gathered what he could -- diaries, letters, oil sketches, plasters, photographs, memorabilia, and drawings -- and brought them to his own home. In 1944, in poor physical and financial health, Bregler sold the most presentable of Eakins' works in his collection, but the vast majority remained in his possession at the time of his death in 1958. Bregler's widow, Mary Louise Picozzi, soon moved to South Philadelphia, where she rebuffed dealers and curators interested in acquiring the 10 sculptures, 21 oils, 333 drawings, 300 glass negatives and positives, more than 500 photographs, and hundreds of personal papers and artifacts in her charge. In 1983, Mary Bregler finally admitted two young curators into her home and, in 1985, the Bregler Collection came to the Pennsylvania Academy. Today, Charles Bregler's Thomas Eakins Collection at the Academy allows new generations of Eakins admirers an opportunity to "rediscover" the art of America's most celebrated nineteenth-century portrait painter.
(Copyright 1996-2001 Traditional Fine Art Online, Inc)

The Wrestlers
Studies Eakins did before ending up with the final painting
Images (above) from ANDREY's WORLD

The Wrestlers
Oil on canvas, 1899
48 1/2 x 60 inches (123.19 x 152.40 cm)
Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) announced on December 21, 2006, the acquisition of Thomas Eakins's large sporting painting, The Wrestlers (1899). The generous gift of Mrs. Cecile C. Bartman and The Cecile and Fred Bartman Foundation, The Wrestlers, above, is one of the last major subject paintings this great American realist created.
Viewed in the trajectory of Eakins's accomplishments, from his first student studies of the figure and early rowing pictures of the 1870s to his late boxing and wrestling paintings, Wrestlers stands as a superb summation of some of the most significant themes of the artist's career.
Mrs. Bartman explained her gift, "LACMA has been a significant part of my life ever since I moved from Chicago, and the eighteen years I served as a docent were quite enjoyable. I thought it was time to give something back to this great institution."
And Michael Govan, LACMA's CEO and Wallis Annenberg Director, noted, "Wrestlers is one of the most historically significant additions to the museum's encyclopedic permanent collection, which already includes the preparatory sketch of this powerful painting. Prominently situated in the canon of American Art, Wrestlers will always hold an important place in our galleries as well."
(©2006 Museum Associates dba the Los Angeles County Museum of Art)

The Thinker - Portrait of Louis N. Kenton
Oil on canvas, 1900
82 x 42 inches (208.28 x 106.68 cm)
Metropolitan Museum of Art, Manhattan
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center

Louis N. Kenton (1865-1947) was Eakins`s brother-in-law, having married Elizabeth Macdowell (1858-1953), sister of Eakins`s wife Susan, in 1889. Elizabeth studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, exhibited professionally, and traveled widely. Her marriage to Kenton was stormy and apparently brief, and very little is known of it, or of Kenton. The title associated with this portrait, "The Thinker," was at one time based upon an inscription on the reverse that apparently was placed there by Susan Eakins. Beginning in 1900, the portrait was widely exhibited and much admired. An oil study for the portrait is in the Farnsworth Library and Art Museum in Rockland, Maine.
Thomas Eakins was misunderstood in life, his brilliant work earned little acclaim, and hidden demons tortured and drove him. Yet the portraits he painted more than a century ago captivate us today, and he is now widely acclaimed as the finest portrait painter USA has ever produced. The Revenge of Thomas Eakins, a book by Sidney D. Kirkpatrick, recounts the artist's life in fascinating detail, drawing on a treasure trove of Eakins family correspondence and papers that have only recently been discovered.Never before has Thomas Eakins' story been told with such drama, clarity, and accuracy. Sidney Kirkpatrick sets the painter's life and art in the wider context of the changing world he devoted himself to portraying, and he also addresses the artist's private life - the contradictory impulses, obsessions, and possible psychological illness that fired his work. Kirkpatrick underscores Eakins' unflinching integrity as an artist and discloses how his profound appreciation of the beauty of the human form was both the source of his greatness and ultimately of his undoing. Nevertheless, the author observes, Eakins has had his 'revenge', inspiring a new generation of realist painters and gaining the recognition that eluded him in life. This title received a rating of "Outstanding" from 2007 University Press Books Committee.
(The Revenge of Thomas Eakins by Sidney D. Kirkpatrick at YALE)
A Drawing Manual by Thomas Eakins; Edited and with an introduction by Kathleen A. Foster; With an essay by Amy B. Werbel was published. While a teacher at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the celebrated American artist Thomas Eakins prepared a drawing manual for his students. The manuscript developed out of his famous lectures at the Academy on linear perspective, mechanical drawing, reflections, and sculptural relief and included illustrations by the artist. Following his forced resignation from the Academy in 1886, Eakins abandoned plans to publish the manual, and the parts were dispersed. Today, drafts of the manuscript reside at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and at the Academy, which also holds many of the illustrations.
A Drawing Manual brings together Eakins’s text, based on a concordance of the drafts, and his original drawings for the project. This remarkable publication reveals Eakins’s personality and teaching philosophy, demonstrating why the artist was renowned as a plainspoken, effective teacher.

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