Eakins, Thomas (1844-1916). American painter. 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.
in Philadelphia, he passed the major part of his life there with the exception
of a period of training in Europe, 1866-70. He studied in Paris with Gйrфme,
but learnt most from the Spanish painters Velбzquez and Ribera, absorbing a
precise and uncompromising sense for actuality which he applied to portraiture
and genre pictures of the life of his native city (boating and bathing were
began teaching at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1876 and was
attacked for his radical ideas, particularly his insistence on working from
nude models. In 1886 he was forced to resign after allowing a mixed class to
draw from a completely nude male model. Eakins's quest for realism led him to
study anatomy and make full use of Muybridge's photographic researches, but the
scientific bent in his work is of less importance than his honesty and depth of
characterization. His portraits are often compared to Rembrandt's because of
their dramatic play of sombre lighting and sense of inner truth. The most
famous of his paintings is The Gross Clinic (Jefferson Medical
Coll., Philadelphia, 1875), which aroused controversy because of its unsparing
depiction of surgery, an experience that was repeated with The Agnew
Clinic (University of Pennsylvania, 1889).
of financial support from his father, Eakins could continue on his chosen
course despite public abuse, but much of his later career was spent working in
bitter isolation. It was only near the end of his life that he achieved
recognition as a great master, and in the first two decades of the 20th century
his desire to `peer deeper into the heart of American life' was reflected in
the work of the Ash-can School and other Realist painters.
well as being a painter and photographer, Eakins also made a few sculptures.
His wife, Susan Hannah Macdowell
Eakins (1851-1938), whom he married in 1884, was also a painter
and photographer, as well as an accomplished pianist.
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