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Artists Thomas Eakins
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Thomas Eakins

American Painter, Photographer, and Teacher

Movements and Styles: Realism, Early American Modernism

Born: July 25,1844 - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Died: June 25, 1916 - Philadelphia Pennsylvania

Thomas Eakins Timeline

Quotes

"The brush is a more powerful and rapid tool than the point or stump."
Thomas Eakins
"A teacher can do very little for a pupil and should only be thankful if he don't hinder him and the greater the master, mostly the less he can say."
Thomas Eakins
"It is always a pleasure to teach what you know to those who want to learn."
Thomas Eakins
"You must be a student of Nature always."
Thomas Eakins
"I see no impropriety in looking at the most beautiful of Nature's works, the naked figure. If there is impropriety, then just where does such impropriety begin? [...] Should men make only the statues of men to be looked at by men, while the statues of women should be made by women to be looked at by women only? Should the he-painters draw the horses and bulls, and the she-painters like Rosa Bonheur the mares and cows? Must the poor old male body in the dissecting room be mutilated before Miss Prudery can dabble in his guts?"
Thomas Eakins
"In pursuance of my business and professional studies, I use the naked model."
Thomas Eakins
"I have never discovered that the nude can be studied in any way except the way I have adopted. All the muscles must be pointed out. To do this all the drapery must be removed."
Thomas Eakins
"Strain your brain more than your eye...You can copy a thing to a certain limit. Then you must use intellect."
Thomas Eakins
"If America is to produce great painters and if you artists wish to assume a place in the history of the art of their country, their first desire should be to remain in America to peer deeper into the heart of American life, rather than spend their time abroad obtaining a superficial view of the art of the Old World. In the days when I studied abroad conditions were entirely different. The facilities for study in this country were meagre. There were even no life classes in our art schools and schools of painting. Naturally one had to seek instruction elsewhere, abroad. Today we need not do that."
Thomas Eakins

"To draw the human figure is necessary to know as much as possible about it, about its structure and its movements, its bones and muscles, how they are made, and how they act."

Thomas Eakins Signature

Synopsis

Working primarily in the second half of the 19th century, Thomas Eakins painted portraits and sporting scenes with resolute Realism. His style renounced idealized and romantic depictions and advocated instead for precise investigation of the human form and the natural world. He embraced photography from its beginning as a tool to prepare his compositions and his bold and resolute paintings would greatly influence the next generation of American Realists known as the Ashcan School.

Key Ideas

Eakins was committed to scientific inquiry of natural laws to the point that he took anatomy lessons and observed dissections and surgeries. His uncompromising realism based on his astute observations brought a scientific rigor to his painting practice.
Because he felt that professional artists needed to have complete knowledge of the human body and its workings, Eakins insisted on working from nude models. Controversially eschewing Victorian propriety, both his male and female students learned to draw observing the nude figure.
Eakins' depictions of men and women were markedly different. His men, usually middle-class and professional, were portrayed at work or pursuing leisure activities, such as rowing and swimming. They embodied a virile masculinity with calm and repose. His women, however, were always shown in interior settings, and he emphasized their inner world, showing them in contemplation.

Biography

Thomas Eakins Photo

Childhood and Education

Thomas Eakins was the eldest of five children born to Benjamin and Caroline Eakins. Despite a supportive and secure childhood, Eakins experienced loses early in life, including the death of his younger brother.

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Thomas Eakins Biography Continues

Important Art by Thomas Eakins

The below artworks are the most important by Thomas Eakins - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

The Biglin Brothers Turning the Stake-Boat (1873)

The Biglin Brothers Turning the Stake-Boat (1873)

Artwork description & Analysis: Thomas Eakins' painting The Biglin Brothers Turning the Stake-Boat features a boat race on Pennsylvania's Schuylkill River. The focus is on the two-man crew in the foreground, wearing bright blue caps and pulling their oars through the water. They are in the process of passing a blue flag marker positioned in front and slightly right of the center foreground of the painting. In the background, other rowers can be seen and further in the distance black brushstrokes resemble a gathered crowd watching the race on the grassy, tree-filled field behind the river.

An athlete himself, rowing was one of Eakins' favorite leisure activities, and he created six large-scale paintings and a series of watercolors of the subject. Many of his rowing works featured the two brothers. Their good looks and personality made them popular figures in Philadelphia when they arrived from New York in 1872 to participate in races. Eakins began a friendship with the men and used them as models in many of his paintings for the next two years.

An important early work by Eakins, it bears the distinction of being the largest of his rowing-themed paintings. It also provides examples of the fine skill, attention to detail, and Realism that would dictate most of his oeuvre. Eakins depicts the figures at the height of motion. There is great emphasis on the muscles of the rowers' arms that are strained in the effort to push the oars through the water. This is a foreshadowing of the artist's growing obsession with the human form and of the many future nude studies and paintings that he would create.

Oil on canvas - Collection of The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio

The Gross Clinic (1875)

The Gross Clinic (1875)

Artwork description & Analysis: An intense scene, Eakins' The Gross Clinic is large in scale, measuring eight feet wide and over six feet across. Eakins paints Dr. Samuel D. Gross, a teacher and surgeon at the Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, engaged in a teaching demonstration of a surgical procedure for the medical students seated behind him. Graphic in nature, five other doctors operate on a patient's infected thigh. This scientific endeavor contrasts sharply with the emotional reaction of the lone woman in the scene, presumably the patient's mother. Behind the operation on the right side of the painting, two figures watch the proceedings from the shadow of the room's doorway.

This work is one of Eakins' most important, well-known, and controversial paintings. It provides a clear example of his interest in scientific study and medicine. Perhaps as a nod to his own interest in the anatomy and dissection courses he took at the very college depicted in this work, Eakins decided to paint himself into the portrait and appears as one of the student observers. Eakins paid great attention to the technical details of the surgery, and the scene also shows great artistic skill and design in the way that he illuminates the otherwise dark scene with a wash of light coming down on the pale skin of the patient and the white sheets on which he rests. Dramatic effect and keen use of color is also demonstrated in the clear bursts of red used to show the blood on the victim's body and the assistants as well as the scalpel held by Dr. Gross.

Intended to be included in the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876, Eakins wanted to create a complex portrait scene, but his Realism was all too real for the selection committee. The painting was shown, but in the U.S. Army Post Hospital exhibition, not the main exhibition space - certainly a snub to the artist. Reactions were mixed with some praising Eakins for his study of anatomy, but most questioning the purpose of the painting and its morbidity.

Oil on canvas - Collections of Philadelphia Museum of Art and Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

William Rush Carving His Allegorical Figure of the Schuylkill River (1876-77)

William Rush Carving His Allegorical Figure of the Schuylkill River (1876-77)

Artwork description & Analysis: Thomas Eakins' William Rush Carving His Allegorical Figure of the Schuylkill River depicts Philadelphian sculptor and ship carver, William Rush, known for his allegorical works. In his studio, Rush stands in the background, carving a female figure based upon the nude woman posing in the foreground. To the right of the model a woman sits focused on her knitting, serving as the chaperone to the studio event. Daringly, the focal point of the work is not so much the artist or his model but a chair on which the model's clothes are draped. The bright white of her undergarments provide a burst of light in the otherwise darkly rendered scene.

An important work, this painting is the first of a limited number of historical paintings that Eakins made during his career. Despite the historical basis, however, the scene was one of the artist's imagination. The real model for Rush's sculpture most likely never posed nude. Additionally, some of Rush's other works visible in the studio were made after he completed this sculpture, thereby serving to show the artistic license Eakins took to make a more interesting, and arguably more controversial, scene.

The nude female in the foreground generated much controversy at the time. For some the insult lay in the model's unattractiveness, but others were shocked by the brazen way that Eakins presented her. As one New York Times writer remarked, "What ruins the picture is much less the want of beauty in the model, ... than the presence in the foreground of the clothes of that young woman, cast carelessly over a chair. This gives the shock which makes one think about the nudity - and at once the picture becomes improper!"

This painting serves as an early example of the obsession Eakins would have with the nude figure throughout his career. Often photographing himself and students in the nude, demanding that females have equal opportunity to work from male nudes in his classes, and painting numerous works in which a nude figure is prominently featured, nudity is a common thread that runs through his entire body of work. Eakins insisted that working from the nude form is the only way to truly understand and accurately depict the human body, but rumors persisted that his interest was more deviant.

Oil on canvas - Collection of Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

More Thomas Eakins Artwork and Analysis:



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Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Thomas Eakins
Interactive chart with Thomas Eakins's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart

Artists

William Merritt ChaseWilliam Merritt Chase
Jean-Leon GeromeJean-Leon Gerome
Eadweard MuybridgeEadweard Muybridge
Christian Schussele
Earl Shinn

Personal Contacts

Mariana Griswold van Rensselaer
Walt WhitmanWalt Whitman

Movements

History painting
Modern PhotographyModern Photography
RealismRealism

Influences on Artist
Thomas Eakins
Thomas Eakins
Years Worked: 1862 - 1912
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Walker EvansWalker Evans
Robert HenriRobert Henri
Edward HopperEdward Hopper
Dorothea LangeDorothea Lange
Eadweard MuybridgeEadweard Muybridge

Personal Contacts

Fairman Rogers
Mariana Griswold van Rensselaer
Walt WhitmanWalt Whitman

Movements

Modern PhotographyModern Photography
Ashcan SchoolAshcan School
RealismRealism

Useful Resources on Thomas Eakins

Books

Articles

Videos

More

The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.

biography

The Revenge of Thomas Eakins Recomended resource

by Sidney D. Kirkpatrick

Thomas Eakins: His Life and Art

by William Innes Homer

written by artist

The Paris Letters of Thomas Eakins

by Thomas Eakins and William Innes Homer

More Interesting Books about Thomas Eakins
Eakins Comes Out - An 1885 painting set in Bryn Mawr gave Philadelphia something to whisper about Recomended resource

An 1885 painting set in Bryn Mawr gave Philadelphia something to whisper about.
By Mark E. Dixon
Mainline Today

Is Thomas Eakins a Great Artist? Recomended resource

By James F. Cooper
Newington-Cropsey Cultural Studies Center

Three Ways of Looking at Thomas Eakins Recomended resource

By Christopher Benfey
The New York Review of Books
March 29, 2007

Was Eakins gay - or just a real troublemaker? Recomended resource

By Mary Panzer
The Chicago Tribune
July 31, 2002

National Gallery of Art - Wyeth Lecture in American Art: "Thomas Eakins and the 'Grand Manner' Portrait"

This video is a recording of the lecture given at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC on October 27, 2005 by Doctor Kathleen Foster, curator at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The lecture focuses on the grand manner portraits created by Thomas Eakins during his career with a focus on how the portraits of others were often ways for the artist to reveal elements of his own personality and life.

Penn Reading Project 2009: The Agnew Clinic

Doctor Kathleen Foster provides a detailed discussion of Thomas Eakins' The Agnew Clinic, including a comparison to his earlier The Gross Clinic.

in pop culture

"St. Nick Weasels His Way Into More Art: Ed Wheeler Santa Classics," December 17, 2016

Philadelphia based photographer Ed Wheeler incorporates two Thomas Eakins' paintings in his practice of dressing as Santa Claus and inserting himself into classic paintings. In so doing, Thomas Eakins' rowing and boxing works have entered the realm of popular culture.

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Content compiled and written by Jessica DiPalma

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Jessica DiPalma
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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