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Thomas Eakins


Thomas Cowperthwait Eakins (July 25, 1844 – June 25, 1916) was an American realist painter, photographer, sculptor, and fine arts educator. He is widely acknowledged to be one of the most important artists in American art history.

For the length of his professional career, from the early 1870s until his health began to fail some 40 years later, Eakins worked exactingly from life, choosing as his subject the people of his hometown of Philadelphia. He painted several hundred portraits, usually of friends, family members, or prominent people in the arts, sciences, medicine, and clergy. Taken en masse, the portraits offer an overview of the intellectual life of Philadelphia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; individually, they are incisive depictions of thinking persons. As well, Eakins produced a number of large paintings which brought the portrait out of the drawing room and into the offices, streets, parks, rivers, arenas, and surgical amphitheaters of his city. These active outdoor venues allowed him to paint the subject which most inspired him: the nude or lightly clad figure in motion. In the process he could model the forms of the body in full sunlight, and create images of deep space utilizing his studies in perspective.

No less important in Eakins' life was his work as a teacher. As an instructor he was a highly influential presence in American art. The difficulties which beset him as an artist seeking to paint the portrait and figure realistically were paralleled and even amplified in his career as an educator, where behavioral and sexual scandals truncated his success and damaged his reputation.

Eakins also took a keen interest in the new technologies of motion photography, a field in which he is now seen as an innovator. Eakins was a controversial figure whose work received little by way of official recognition during his lifetime. Since his death, he has been celebrated by American art historians as "the strongest, most profound realist in nineteenth-and early-twentieth-century American art".


1.) Akela Reason (2010). Thomas Eakins and the Uses of History. University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 119. ISBN 9780812241983. "Eakins's selection of this subject has puzzled some art historians who, unable to reconcile what appears to be an anomalous religious image by a reputedly agnostic artist, have related it solely to Eakins's desire for realism, thus divesting the painting of its religious content. Lloyd Goodrich, for example, considered this illustration of Christ's suffering completely devoid of “religious sentiment” and suggested that Eakins intended it simply as a realist study of the male nude body. As a result, art historians have frequently associated 'Crucifixion' (like Swimming) with Eakins's strong interest in anatomy and the nude."

2.) Amy Beth Werbel (2007). Thomas Eakins: Art, Medicine, and Sexuality in Nineteenth-Century Philadelphia. Yale University Press. p. 37. ISBN 9780300116557. "Given Eakins' outspoken agnosticism, his motivation to paint a crucifixion scene is frankly curious."

3.) Thomas Eakins Rediscovered: Charles Bregler's Thomas Eakins Collection at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Yale University Press. 1997. p. 233. ISBN 9780300061741. "Samuel Murray, himself a Catholic, "believed that Eakins never was a Christian"; Bregler described TE as an agnostic."

4.) Sidney Kirkpatrick (2006). The Revenge of Thomas Eakins. Yale University Press. p. 55. ISBN 9780300108552. "Further, Eakins' agnosticism and his views on such topics as science and technology, evident in his youth and carried on throughout his career, more directly coincided with the accepted doctrine and practices of Jefferson faculty members than perhaps with any other fraternity of like-minded professionals in the city."

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