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The Revenge of Thomas Eakins

The Revenge of Thomas Eakins

Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 576
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  • Book Info
    The Revenge of Thomas Eakins
    Book Description:

    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 our nation has ever produced. This book 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's 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's 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.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12848-2
    Subjects: History, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. introduction In Light and Shadow
    (pp. 1-16)

    Thomas Eakins was an enigma who shocked art lovers and critics alike in his time. Today he is considered the finest portrait painter our nation has ever produced. Through sheer will, clarity of vision, depth and incisiveness of technique, he captured images of such realism and narrative fascination that viewers are pulled into them the way a theater audience is drawn into a scene from a motion picture: looking at his paintings, one experiences a feeling of being there, in the moment, with the champion boxer in a crowded, smoke-filled arena, the pianist resting her head in her hands, the...


    • one The Eakins Family of Philadelphia
      (pp. 19-29)

      Twenty-year-old Thomas Eakins enrolled in a class of aspiring surgeons at Philadelphia’s Jefferson Medical College in 1864. How committed he was to pursuing a career as a medical specialist is a matter of scholarly debate. All that can be said with certainty is that he had the intellect and temperament to have distinguished himself in the field. Fearlessness, devotion, discipline, and an informed mind—the very character traits most sought in a Pennsylvania operating room in the mid-nineteenth century—were qualities the young Eakins possessed in no small measure. He was endowed with an enormous appetite for knowledge, an abiding...

    • two Master Benjamin
      (pp. 30-35)

      However consciously or unconsciously Eakins’ dependence on his father might have become a psychological burden, Benjamin freely gave his support and Tom gratefully accepted it. Never grudging or cranky, Benjamin didn’t put demands on his son that Tom did not willingly embrace. They appear never to have had a falling out or period of estrangement; their relationship lasted longer and meant more to Eakins than any other, with the exception perhaps of the one he had with Susan Macdowell, who became his wife. Master Benjamin’s emotional support sustained his son throughout his youth and well into the artist’s middle years....

    • three The Art of the Penman
      (pp. 36-45)

      And so it was that the entire Eakins household lived and breathed the disciplined aesthetic of a master penman. Each June, in anticipation of the graduation ceremonies being planned throughout the city, every available flat surface in the house was covered with documents in various stages of completion. Adults and children would be employed in every part of production, from shuttling documents between rooms and checking spelling and punctuation to delivery, bookkeeping, and bank deposits. As the children grew older, their responsibilities increased. Margaret, at fourteen, was described as “quite a dabster at putting in hair lines” on documents. Tom...

    • four An Uncertain Future
      (pp. 46-51)

      The Eakins family had ample reason to celebrate their son’s graduation. Tom had distinguished himself to the extent that he could go on to do virtually anything he desired. His degree permitted him ready access to the Philadelphia business community, where Central High graduates included a millionaire shipbuilder, executives at several large manufacturing plants, the current attorney general of Pennsylvania, and several prominent judges and newspaper editors. Eakins was reluctant to enter any of these professions because he had not made up his mind about his future career. He did not overtly express an interest in art, and he had...

    • five The Medical Arts and the Fine Arts
      (pp. 52-58)

      The foot soldiers of the Potomac fought the battles. Public institutions and private industry won the war. Nowhere was the alliance more evident than in the city of Philadelphia. The largest corporation in the nation, the Pennsylvania and Reading Railroad, whose granite headquarters towered above Chestnut Street, moved more troops and greater quantities of supplies faster and more efficiently than had ever been transported in any previous war in world history. A few blocks away on Chestnut Street, the United States Mint used new steam-driven milling machinery to produce more coins in less time than had ever before been minted....

    • six The Pennsylvania Academy
      (pp. 59-65)

      Following in the time-honored tradition, new students were immediately dispatched to the academy library to begin copying drawings and sketches made by other artists. Perhaps because of his previous training, Eakins appears to have skipped this copy work altogether. On October 7, 1862, he began in the second stage of the academy’s training, drawing from antique plaster casts and statues. These classes were supervised by Isaac Craig, a painter of religious and historical subjects, and through occasional visits by John Sartain and other academicians. Students were also permitted to attend anatomy lectures in the dissection room at the University of...

    • seven A Dangerous Young Adonis
      (pp. 66-74)

      The three years Eakins spent studying at the Temple were a heady, romantic, and in all ways emotionally charged adventure. The future was uncertain. Nearly everyone in the school was touched by the war, which was reaching its peak in 1864. Southern armies had invaded the state of Pennsylvania three times, and though Philadelphia was never under siege, the loss of life and the war’s tragic consequences were evident to everyone.

      As a release from their studies, and from the war, students laughed and flirted and played pranks on one another. Older and more experienced students enjoyed taking younger ones...

    • eight From Temple to Palace
      (pp. 75-83)

      The allure of the Louvre’s five thousand paintings and six miles of galleries was reason enough to cross the Atlantic. It was what lay beyond the museum’s corridors that made the journey to Paris even more remarkable. France’s egalitarian and reform-minded leader, Napoleon III, had transformed the ancient capital into the world’s first modern metropolis. Tree-lined boulevards with paved sidewalks replaced 300 miles of twisted alleyways and medieval cobbled streets. Forty-five hundred acres were turned into public parks offering rolling lawns, reflecting pools, and gravel footpaths. Five hundred miles of new water mains and 260 miles of new sewers were...

    • nine Heads and Hands
      (pp. 84-92)

      In many of the early letters Eakins wrote home from Paris, there is a sense that the young Philadelphian had already begun transferring his admiration and affection from one mentor to the next. That both Benjamin Eakins and Jean-Léon Gérôme enjoyed outdoor sports, devoted themselves to their work, loved teaching, and pursued a disciplined, professional, and even scientific method of instruction made the transition an easy one. His father remained the foundation for Eakins. It was Gérôme to whom he now became a supplicant.

      “The oftener I see him the more I like him,” Eakins wrote to his father. Another...

    • ten Letters Home
      (pp. 93-104)

      In spite of the excitement he experienced being in Paris, before the end of his first year there Eakins was homesick. He missed his mother’s cranberry dressing, impromptu dances with his aging Aunt Tinnie in the Mount Vernon Street kitchen, and the fall colors on the Schuylkill River. “It must be very beautiful now with the red and yellow leaves of the trees,” he mused in a letter to his mother. “The leaves are all changing here too, but they do not grow bright; they only fade and die.”

      Most of all he missed his family and friends, as they...

    • eleven Rough Around the Edges
      (pp. 105-110)

      Benjamin and Frances Eakins arrived in Paris before Emily Sartain. They left New York by steamship on June 13, arrived in Liverpool eleven days later, and spent ten days in London before leaving for Paris. Eakins met them at the train station, the Gare de Nord, on July 4, 1868.

      “He is much thinner than when he left home, but his complexion is clear and he looks right strong,” Frances wrote in her diary. “He’s just the same old Tom he used to be, and just as careless looking . . . but he’s the finest looking fellow I’ve seen...

    • twelve The Artist and His Muse
      (pp. 111-117)

      Eakins’ appreciation for the teaching of Jean-Léon Gérôme never wavered during the three and a half years he studied under him. “He loved and admired his master,” said Susan Macdowell, Eakins’ future wife. Gérôme was not, however, the young art student’s only teacher, or even one whose style and technique would most be associated with Eakins’ later work. Tom’s letters home bear witness to a steady movement away from “le patron’s” cold and icy surfaces and hard outlines. Eager as he was to extol his master’s virtues and talents, he maintained his own identity.

      Unlike his friends Harry Moore and...

    • thirteen Picture Making
      (pp. 118-126)

      Eakins continued his progress through the winter months of 1869– 70. He proudly wrote his father on November 5, 1869, that he constructed figures “as well as any of Gérôme’s boys,” and that his “handling of color was improving.” He would definitively be shifting away from sketches and studies and beginning to paint complete pictures. Before coming home, however, he felt he still needed to learn to paint outdoors, a practice he believed would strengthen his perception of light and his use of color.

      For winter vacation he planned to go abroad, either to Algiers or Spain, and return to...


    • fourteen The Road Less Traveled
      (pp. 129-138)

      Back in the New World, Philadelphia was expanding outward and upward. The 1870s saw the demolition of the old Temple of fine arts and its rebirth as a Victorian cathedral, complete with vaulted ceilings and rose window. A block away, renovation was completed on the Masonic headquarters, a towering Romanesque fortress of multicolored turrets and spires. The new City Hall, erected like a castle starting in 1871, eventually dwarfed both buildings. Its four-and-a-half-acre complex of soaring colonnades, pediments, and cornices would be lauded by city fathers as the largest, most inspired municipal once in the nation. Less admiring appraisers merely...

    • fifteen Champion Oarsman
      (pp. 139-148)

      Eakins had two paintings in mind for the first public showing of his art. One was a portrait of Philadelphia attorney Matthew Messchert, an Eakins family friend. This painting, among others of Eakins’ early works, is now lost. Little is known about it aside from a brief reference in a review of the subsequent show at the Union League, indicating that his work had been included. Eakins obviously considered the portrait better than those he had painted of his own family members, or else thought Messchert was a more important subject, because he submitted it rather thanHome Scene or...

    • sixteen The Biglin Brothers Racing
      (pp. 149-155)

      Caroline Eakins did not live to see her son complete his second rowing painting. She died on June 4, 1872, at fifty-two, leaving behind a household consisting of three unmarried daughters, a maiden aunt, Tom, and his widowed father. As with the earlier death of Benjamin Jr. in 1850, no details are known. City records list Caroline’s cause of death as “exhaustion from mania.” Her mental condition notwithstanding, it was likely the diet of purgatives and digitalis that killed her.

      Two months after their mother died, Tom’s sister Frances married Will Crowell. The young couple settled into an upstairs bedroom,...

    • seventeen Hikers and Hunters
      (pp. 156-163)

      Thomas Eakins, still youthful at twenty-nine years, went on to do for other sports what he had done for rowing: exploring them as narratives to express character and truth. Having already grappled with the intricacies of boats and wave patterns, his natural next step was to depict sailboats in contest on a local racing site, the Delaware River.

      The favored choice for Delaware River race enthusiasts was a type of catboat known as a hiker, rigged with a single mast and a long boom and capable of comfortably carrying three or four passengers over long distances. Like sculls, hikers were...

    • eighteen Uncompromising Realism
      (pp. 164-175)

      Projecting images to capture complex pictorial challenges was not a new idea. Photography had been developed, in part, for this very purpose. Early mechanical and optical devices, among them the camera obscura and camera lucida, employed fine lenses and mirrors to cast sharp, clear images that the early Dutch masters used as reference points to trace objects onto their canvases. The acknowledged genius Leonardo da Vinci wrote about the technique, and such masters as Caravaggio, Velázquez, Jan van Eyck, and Hans Holbein the Younger were said to have used the process. “The best modern painters among the Italians have availed...

    • nineteen A Good and Decent Girl
      (pp. 176-183)

      Eakins had every reason to believe that his recovery from malaria was complete. “He is all right, painting away,” Benjamin Eakins wrote to his friend Henry Huttner on July 29, 1874. “He will be able to make a living, [and] that is all any of us get. This is a fast age and I hope it will not prove with him as it did with many of the old Master [painters]—[those who] receive great honors a hundred years after they had starved to death.”

      Tom’s bout with malaria, however, might have resulted in an unfortunate side effect. His prolonged...

    • Color plates
      (pp. None)
    • twenty The Blood-Covered Scalpel
      (pp. 184-190)

      The degree to which Eakins discussed his proposed painting with its subject, Dr. Gross, is a matter of debate. The one thing that emerges clearly is that Gross understood he was to be portrayed as medical students saw him in the Jefferson operating theater. On the operating table in front of Gross and his medical team would lie the patient, and sitting in the background above him in the Jefferson amphitheater would be medical students. The aspect of the painting Eakins may not have fully discussed with Gross was the sheer graphic and detailed nature of the portrayal that would...

    • twenty-one A Degradation of Art
      (pp. 191-197)

      The Gross Clinic,as Eakins’ portrait of Dr. Gross became known, had its first public exhibition during the winter of 1875–76 in the Haseltine Gallery on Chestnut Street, where Philadelphia’s most prominent artists had begun to regularly send their best work. Eakins was so proud of his new painting that he ordered high-quality photographic reproductions made; he presented them as gifts to the Central High School and the Philadelphia Sketch Club. As a gesture of goodwill, and in the spirit of reconciliation, he also sent one to Emily Sartain in Paris. Emily, in turn, sent carbon photography of her...

    • twenty-two Painting Heads
      (pp. 198-205)

      No date was set for Tom Eakins’ wedding with Kathrin Crowell. The reason might well have been reluctance on the part of an unenthusiastic groom. Even more likely it was due to his uncertainty about whether he could support a wife and family on the income he received from his art. In Paris, Eakins had never doubted he could earn a living “painting heads.” Now he was not so sure.

      The continuing support from his Sketch Club students did much to boost his morale. In a moment of levity they produced their own burlesque version ofThe Gross Clinicin...

    • twenty-three The Unflinching Eye
      (pp. 206-214)

      Religion and politics, like high finance, were topics the Eakins household was not known to have discussed at any length. Early in 1877, however, these subjects could have turned into a focus of family conversation, as Thomas Eakins actively sought high-profile commissions outside the circle of his friends and contacts in the medical community. In the course of less than a year he came to portray Philadelphia’s first archbishop, James Frederick Wood; the president of the United States, Rutherford B. Hayes; and General George Cadwalader, chairman of the board of Philadelphia’s largest insurance company.

      Archbishop Fames Wood(St. Charles Borromeo...

    • twenty-four Talk of the Town
      (pp. 215-221)

      Fifty-two-year-old Christian Schussele had not weathered the Pennsylvania Academy’s six-year hiatus very well. His palsy and paralysis had advanced to the point that he needed to be helped in and out of the classroom. Evening classes were especially taxing. At the urging of students in his life modeling classes—many of whom were former members of the Philadelphia Sketch Club—he unofficially agreed to a special arrangement: Thomas Eakins was invited to attend the academy’s evening classes as a supervisory volunteer instructor. Nothing was put in writing and no board members were consulted. Eakins, along with six other members of...

    • twenty-five Nymph in the Fountain
      (pp. 222-229)

      A story is told in the city of Edward Shippen, a gray-haired patrician of nineteenth-century Philadelphia known to take leisurely walks after dinner. Coming upon the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts one evening, he decided to see what the young art students were up to. He entered on Cherry Street and ambled down the hallway. Finding a light shining from inside a partially open door, he stepped into the room. Artists were busy at work. He tiptoed behind them, looking over their shoulders at charcoal drawings on their easels. Round he went until he noticed a platform in the...

    • twenty-six The Open Door
      (pp. 230-240)

      Honors that eluded Eakins the artist came easily to Eakins the teacher. Most notable was a feature-length article that appeared in September 1879 inScribner’s Magazine. Despite its title, “The Art Schools of Philadelphia,” the article, written by literary critic William Brownell, focused exclusively on the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and on how Thomas Eakins was revamping the curriculum along new and radical lines. The same magazine that had berated the “horror” that wasThe Gross Clinicnow honored its artist as a cutting-edge instructor devoted to bringing the academy into the modern age. Christian Schussele was still...

    • twenty-seven A May Morning in the Park
      (pp. 241-251)

      The man who was permitting Eakins the freedom to revamp the academy curriculum was the millionaire engineer and iron merchant Fairman Rogers. He not only championed Eakins’ views in the academy board room; he demonstrated continuing support by commissioning a painting that would draw on the artist’s talent and the creative innovations he had made using photographs to capture difficult modeling challenges.A May Morning in the Park(Philadelphia Museum of Art), begun in 1879 and completed in 1880, set out to record, for the first time in the history of art, the anatomical truth of a horse in motion...

    • twenty-eight Jerusalem in New Jersey
      (pp. 252-259)

      Photography continued to inspire Eakins as he conceived of more innovative ways to bring greater realism than ever to his painting. His natural next step was to purchase his own four-by-five-inch box camera and darkroom supplies. By 1880, following several technical breakthroughs in photography along with the additional income from Rogers’ commission and his new salary at the academy, he apparently no longer felt any need to wait. Cameras could now be easily taken into the field, and film negatives could be developed and printed in a home studio. The more intriguing question was not why he held back nearly...

    • twenty-nine Tripod and Easel
      (pp. 260-269)

      How much Eakins relied on projected images to createThe Crucifixionis not known, because the photographs he took for it have never been found. It is impossible to say, for example, how detailed a transcription he made of the source photographs or the degree to which he manipulated the image. This is not the case for paintings Eakins produced the following year. A near complete record of the photographs along with color sketches survives for these projects.

      His choice of subject matter for his next portrait was the diametric opposite ofThe Crucifixion. Singing a Pathetic Song, painted in...

    • thirty Nudes and Prudes
      (pp. 270-281)

      Eakins’ passion for photography—with its lenses, plates, and the eerily precise illusions of photo prints, playing tricks with sight and time while appearing to capture reality—was spilling over to almost all aspects of his personal and professional life. He shot his first photographs for personal use in the backyard at Mount Vernon Street. They show his sister Margaret and his pupil Susan Macdowell posed with the Eakins and Macdowell family dogs. Margaret’s setter, Harry, was photographed by himself and with the Macdowells’ setter Dinah. A dog known to the family as Nance was the subject of several other...

    • thirty-one The Lovely Young Men of Dove Lake
      (pp. 282-294)

      Thomas Eakins, by this time forty years old, intendedSwimmingto be a pictorial manifesto that would express the high purpose of his aims as an artist and teacher. The painting’s composition, color, construction, paint handling, and above all its bold and daring depiction of nudity would make a statement he believed commensurate with his position as the head of the country’s most progressive art school, and set the standard for the academy curriculum for years to come. Just as he had broken new ground inA May Morning in the Parkby accurately and realistically depicting the sequential movements...


    • thirty-two Philanthropists and Philistines
      (pp. 297-304)

      The Pennsylvania Academy’s board of directors did not discuss Eakins’ salary at their session on April 13, 1885, or at any others held that year. Among topics they addressed, however, were measures to limit the chairman of the committee on instruction and the academy’s director from making budgetary decisions and financial commitments without first gaining the entire board’s approval. Not only would Eakins be denied a raise in pay; the freedoms and discretionary decision-making powers previously afforded him would be greatly reduced. Eakins could no longer issue free passes to promising but impoverished students seeking to study at the academy....

    • thirty-three The Hanging Committee
      (pp. 305-309)

      In the two-year period following his field expeditions to Dove Lake, Eakins shot several thousand nude photographs of academy students and professional models as part of his ongoing research at the University of Pennsylvania with Eadweard Muybridge. Photography had, in fact, become such an obsession for him, he neglected his own painting career almost entirely. He believed he was on the verge of a major breakthrough in how photography could be used to expand the kind of contemplative narrative depth of a moment he captured in his paintings. As Roland Barthes later observed, “cameras . . . were clocks for...

    • thirty-four Point of No Return
      (pp. 310-316)

      The degree to which the forty-one-year-old Thomas Eakins had become a liability to the Pennsylvania Academy was growing more obvious to board members with each passing day in late 1885. Among the legion of offenses he was rumored to have committed was an incident in a female drawing class, where he was explaining an anatomical point about the curvature of a woman’s spine. When the designated model failed to appear for class, Eakins, it was said, asked a student, in place of the missing model, to remove her blouse so that her fellow classmates could see her back. The student...

    • thirty-five Demons and Demigods
      (pp. 317-326)

      In his lifetime, and for many years to come, rumors of a “secret conspiracy” to end the career of Thomas Eakins were treated as idle gossip spread by disgruntled students. Many leading authorities on Eakins have argued that no such conspiracy was likely because none was necessary. Eakins himself laid the groundwork for his demise by his many actions that ran contrary to the academy board’s express wishes and the cultural climate in Philadelphia in the late 1880s. The loincloth incident was one of many known offenses committed by Eakins, the academy’s director.

      It wasn’t until a century later, through...

    • thirty-six The Family Skeleton
      (pp. 327-335)

      The amount of misery Stephens’ allegations heaped on Eakins and his immediate family members may never be known, but the impact must have been enormous. The matter of nude modeling, of course, was not a new complaint to Eakins by this time, and questions about his marriage could be easily resolved by showing the Sketch Club investigators his marriage license. It was the spreading of tales concerning illicit involvement with his deceased sister Margaret that overwhelmed Eakins. As a result, he may in fact have suffered a nervous breakdown.

      Letters about Stephens’ charges indicate that Eakins did not at first...

    • thirty-seven Black Care
      (pp. 336-345)

      Phidias, too, paid a high price for his art. Legend held that the Greek sculptor rendered a portrait of himself and Pericles on Athena’s shield, an impiety that his jealous assistant, Menon, used to betray him. Phidias, accordingly, was sent to prison. Eakins could count himself fortunate in this regard. Had Frances Eakins Crowell and their father not been alive to defend him, “the mischief,” Eakins said, “might never have been stayed.”

      Eakins, at age forty-three, must have tried to banish such thoughts as he boarded a Northern Pacific Pullman car bound for Dickinson in the Dakota Territory in the...

    • thirty-eight The Bard of Camden
      (pp. 346-355)

      In mid-November of 1888, several weeks after his return from the Dakotas, Eakins and his friend Talcott Williams, known as “Talk-A-Lot,” visited another artist, one whose medium was words, Walt Whitman. Whitman, by then a legend, was living in partial retirement a short ferry ride across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, on Mickle Street in Camden, New Jersey. Whitman remarked to Horace Traubel, his young disciple and later his biographer, “[Eakins] seemed careless, negligent, indifferent, quiet: you would not say retiring, but amounting to that.” Rather than being put off by the artist’s obvious lack of social graces, the aging...

    • thirty-nine A League of His Own
      (pp. 356-366)

      Eakins’ ten-week absence in the Dakotas and his excursions to Camden did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the students who had seceded from the academy to form the Art Students’ League of Philadelphia. They had no building—the league simply rented rooms where and when tuition permitted. Nor was a formal curriculum offered other than drawing and painting from the nude—Eakins lectured and gave demonstrations when it was necessary or deemed appropriate. And the students too, like their controversial instructor, were under the scrutiny of the academy board members who had a vested interest in seeing the league...

    • forty Dressed and Undressed
      (pp. 367-378)

      Eakins received no salary from his teaching at the Art Students’ League. He surely would not have been able to give freely of his time had he not been invited to other institutions—he lectured and taught part time at five other schools during the seven years the league operated. In New York, he taught at the Arts Students League, the National Academy of Design, and Cooper Union. Closer to home, he gave classes at the Art Students’ Guild in Washington, D.C., and at the Drexel Institute of Art, Science, and Industry in Philadelphia. Rather than receive an income from...

    • Color plates
      (pp. None)
    • forty-one Portraits by a Modern Master
      (pp. 379-387)

      Two years after her last correspondence with Eakins, Lillian Hammitt was committed to a psychiatric hospital in Norristown, Pennsylvania. The potential for a full-blown scandal posed at that time by her delusional mental condition was thus averted. Ella and Margaret Crowell’s art education was proceeding without any problem; the girls mixed freely and happily with other league students. Eakins for his part would look back on his league years as a time of professional renewal. Beyond the many portraits of his students, he made several paintings that helped him regain a foothold in Philadelphia society.

      Portrait of Letitia Wilson Fordan...

    • forty-two Horrors of the Dissecting Table
      (pp. 388-399)

      The history of medical portraiture in Philadelphia began more than a century before Eakins dropped out of medical school to turn his full attention to live modeling classes at the Pennsylvania Academy. No other artist, however, painted more portraits of the city’s physicians or did more to celebrate their values. During the forty years between the artist’s painting of the chemist and physician Howard Rand in 1874 and his unfinished rendering of anatomist and brain surgeon Edward Spitzka in 1914, Eakins portrayed twenty-five Philadelphia physicians. AlthoughThe Gross Clinic,his masterpiece from 1875, may be his most brilliant,The Agnew...

    • forty-three Casting for Commissions
      (pp. 400-412)

      Eakins welcomed his students, especially the dynamic Sam Murray, into his studio. Murray’s preference for sculpture proved fortuitous for both master and pupil. Increasing national wealth, along with renewed patriotism driven by American expansion, spurred a proliferation of new public buildings and monuments celebrating the nation’s arriving as a world power. The decade before the turn of the new century, the time when Murray, under Eakins’ tutelage, first began molding his first clay images, would become known as the golden age of American sculpture and mural painting.

      More Italian stone masons were employed in New York City than in Rome....

    • forty-four The Pied Piper of Philadelphia
      (pp. 413-424)

      The teaching practices that had once earned Eakins an international reputation at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts resulted, poignantly, through changes wrought over time and circumstance, in his leaving the classroom altogether. In the 1890s he had joined the part-time faculty of several leading institutions in Philadelphia and New York. “Certain scholars have felt offended at something in the matter or the manner of one of your lectures,” the director of the National Academy of Design wrote Eakins in 1894. “[The] council, appreciating the sincerity of your point of view, and the enthusiasm with which you treat your...


    • forty-five Portrait of a Physicist
      (pp. 427-435)

      Eakins did not retreat into his studio and disfigure paintings as he had in the aftermath of the Stephens accusations in 1886. He launched into a new project in a new place, leaving for Maine to paint an uncommissioned portrait of Dr. Henry Rowland, a distinguished physicist on summer leave from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Correspondence Eakins sent to his wife while he was gone gives no clue how long the two men had known each other or why Eakins traveled nearly seven hundred miles to paint his portrait in 1897. Concern for his own mental health and a...

    • forty-six Down for the Count
      (pp. 436-446)

      A day painting in the studio often ended with a night out on the town. During Eakins’ courtship and the early years of his marriage, he and Susan would often walk together to the theater or a concert. Macdowell—a talented pianist—enjoyed hearing Beethoven and Mozart, while Eakins found most intense pleasure in watching the musicians. Years later, with the approach of the new century, the couple’s tastes gradually changed. It could be that they felt snubbed by elements of Philadelphia’s fashionable elite, or that Eakins—whose gut, like his beard, had grown—no longer felt comfortable dressing for...

    • forty-seven Outlaw in an Undershirt
      (pp. 447-457)

      In the early years of the new century, Rear Admiral George Melville, retired, a great fight enthusiast, posed for two portraits by Eakins. Melville recalled going with the artist to the Friday night matches at the Philadelphia Arena. Jostled by the crowd, he brushed against Eakins, only to discover that his companion, a man he regarded highly as an accomplished artist and scholar, carried hidden beneath his jacket a large revolver. Melville was incredulous. In all the many ports the admiral had visited—Hong Kong, Yokohama, Manila Bay—he had not once felt the need to arm himself. Yet Eakins,...

    • forty-eight Pictured Lives
      (pp. 458-468)

      During the first five years of the new century Eakins produced an astonishing 110 portraits, turning his brush and eye from capturing the most unassuming clerk to an archbishop of the Catholic Church, and in what may be among his finest, an image of himself. These paintings stand today as a bulwark safeguarding the artist’s reputation as our nation’s greatest portraitist. Each canvas is entirely singular, unique to itself. Few of the works are the same dimensions. Each subject appears in a distinct pose, posture, and arrangement of elements that are as unduplicated as fingerprints. Refinements in his technique change...

    • forty-nine Pontiffs and Prelates
      (pp. 469-478)

      Eakins’ interest in the Holy Scriptures did not mean in his later years that he had finally converted to Catholicism. “His reading the Bible had nothing to do with religion, any more than had his reading anatomy,” said Elizabeth Dunbar. As she and Eakins’ friend David Jordan pointed out, the artist was not a prisoner to ideas and ideology. He sought truth from scripture as he did from dissection, logarithms, photography, and the Elgin marbles. Eakins’ theology was written in the crescent of fine lines around a woman’s eyes and in the subtle grace of an aging man resting in...

    • fifty Return to Rush
      (pp. 479-485)

      Of Eakins’ continued fascination with nude modeling, both before and after his formal portraits of Catholic clergymen, there is no doubt. Sam Murray told of a Miss Belmont, a friend of Admiral Melville, who had a particularly handsome body and lustrous red hair. Belmont had modeled for a head and bust portrait by Murray, and he was so taken by her appearance that he recommended she model for Eakins. According to Murray, Eakins soon had her posing for eight or nine hours a day, at a dollar an hour. A painting must have emerged, one would think, from the sessions,...

    • fifty-one Artist in Residence
      (pp. 486-496)

      Eakins never tired of hiking the New Jersey shores. In the summer and early fall he strolled the beach at Manasquan, where tides seeped into the footprints he left in the sand, the sun darkened his face and bare shoulders, and salt dried on his ankles. On a walk he took in 1907, he happened upon a dead eagle. In the decaying, delicately ribbed plumage of the once proud creature, Eakins’ keen eye would have recognized his own mortality. Four years later, on a trip to Fairton, he had a more concrete reminder.

      He and Murray spent the day swimming...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 497-530)
  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 531-538)
  10. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 539-542)
  11. Index
    (pp. 543-565)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 566-566)