Thomas Eakins

American, 1844 - 1916
Eakins is regarded as one of America's greatest painters. In his time, Eakins was frequently at the center of artistic controversy. His determined championship of science and scientific observation did not sit well with a public attuned to the natural splendors of landscape painting - especially that of the Hudson River School. His work was consistently deplored for its excessive realism.

Thomas Eakins was born in Philadelphia on July 25, 1844. He entered the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1862, and in 1866 went to Paris to study under the painter Jean-Leon Gerome and sculptor Alexandre Dumont. Before returning to the United States in 1870, Eakins traveled to Spain, where he encountered the work of Veldzquez and Ribera, whose trenchant realism and dramatic use of light were major influences on the young American. His concurrent study of anatomy at Jefferson Medical College led to a lifelong interest in scientific realism.

Eakins spent three years in Paris from 1866 to 1869, where he studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. He was strongly influenced by 17th-century masters, particularly the Dutch artist Rembrandt and the Spanish painters Josepe de Ribera and Diego Velazquez. These masters impressed him with their realism and psychological penetration. He returned to Philadelphia in 1870 and lived there the rest of his life.

Eakins's paintings depict scenes and people observed in the life around him in Philadelphia, particularly domestic scenes of his family and friends. He exercised his scientific inclination in paintings of sailing, rowing, and hunting, where he delineated the anatomy of the human body in motion. He painted several large and powerful hospital scenes, most notably The Gross Clinic (1875, Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia), which combined sharp realism-a depiction of an operation in progress-with psychological acuity in the portrayal of the surgeon, Doctor Gross.

As director of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Eakins introduced an innovative curriculum, including thorough study of anatomy and dissection as well as scientific perspective, which revolutionized the teaching of art in America. His insistence on study from the nude scandalized the school's authorities, however, and he was forced to resign in 1886.

During the later part of his career, Eakins's scientific interests were overshadowed by his preoccupation with psychology and personality, and in his art he concentrated principally on portraiture-studies of friends, scientists, musicians, artists, and clergymen. In addition to their masterly evocation of personality, these portraits are characterized by uncompromising realism and by a sculptural sense of form, which is evident in the strong modeling of the sitters' heads, bodies, and hands. Typical of his full-length portraits is The Pathetic Song (1881, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.), with the standing figure of a singer in a rich silk gown silhouetted against a dimly lighted music room.

Although none of his paintings brought him financial or popular success, Eakins had a profound influence, both as a painter and as a teacher, on the course of American naturalism. His realistic approach to painting was ahead of his time. He died in Philadelphia on June 25, 1916.

Biography courtesy of Roughton Galleries,
Thomas Eakins was born in 1844. He studied art at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. In addition to his artistic studies, he pursued anatomy at the Jefferson Medical School. Eakins is one of America's best Realist artists, specifying in portraiture and figurative subjects such as the "Gross Clinic". This painting depicts the surgeon Samuel Gross, at work with students quietly observing. He also painted in the modern genre and sports subjects, including a boxing series done in the 1890s. Eakins' scientific study in the mechanics of nature provided him with precise information applied to his technique. Eakins was a teacher at the PAFA from 1873-1886. He emphasized the importance of anatomy in order for students to understand figural composition. Eakins resigned in 1886 after a dispute over removing cloth that covered a model in his class. After his resignation, Eakins organized a Philadelphia Art Students League but it only lasted a few years. Eakins was also a talented photographer, using his pictures as studies for paintings as well as an independent art in itself. Babcock Galleries, NYC, liquidated Eakins estate shortly after his death in 1916.

Biography courtesy of The Caldwell Gallery,
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