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Thomas Eakins Biography
American Naturalist painter, sculptor,
photographer & teacher
|Teacher of: Thomas Pollock Anschutz (1851-1912), Paul Peel (1860-1892).|
|The final story of Thomas Eakins has not been written. Modernists have celebrated him for his departure from French academic traditions, and his artwork has had considerable influence over succeeding modernist schools of art such as “The Eight.” But it is very much a stretch to see him as a modernist, as everything about his subject and technique cries out traditional, classical, and universal human themes. Thus Thomas Eakins painter also finds an even more avid audience among modern-day classical artists, who greatly admire his knowledge of anatomy and perspective and the power of his compositions and themes.|
He was born in Philadelphia, where he would spend most of his life. From
1866-70, he traveled to Paris to study with
French masters. Thomas Eakins gained admission to the
prestigious École des Beaux-Arts and entered
Jean Léon Gérôme’s
atelier on October 29, 1866. He enjoyed Gérôme’s meticulous Thomas Eakins drawing and exhaustive
research for his oriental and historical
paintings. As his training progressed, his
letters to his father reveal a growing
antagonism with the French academic’s
preoccupation with classical subjects. Even
Thomas Eakins painter love for
never abated, he began to study
on his own, and he later entered the atelier of
friend, Léon Bonnat, in 1869. Thomas Eakins preferred
the broad tonalities of Bonnat’s paintings
to that of his former teacher, but it was in
Spain that he would find his true artistic
allies. While visiting the Prado in Madrid,
Thomas Eakins discovered the tonalities and loose
Diego Velázquez and
both of whom would deeply affect Thomas Eakins painter artwork
throughout his entire career.
Although today, Eakins is often heralded as the greatest American painter of the nineteenth century, his artwork found little success in either American collections or by the critics. Americans at the time preferred the bright colors and classical idealism of artists like William Bouguereau and Alexander Cabanel to the muddy tonalities and gritty realism of Thomas Eakins, as best exemplified by his 1875 painting The Gross Clinic. In this Thomas Eakins painting, a surgical operation comes to life in all its reality: students look on with scientific fascination as bloodstained surgeons operate on a patient. The patient’s wound is displayed in all its graphic detail, and the chief surgeon, Dr. Gross, stands lecturing to the students, as a woman in the lower left covers her face in shock. From our vantage point a hundred years later, the antagonisms between Thomas Eakins and other academics of his time seem of minor consequence considering the unquestionable high quality of the best on both sides of those arguments, especially compared to the destruction of standards that was soon to follow. The re-appreciation well underway of all these great 19th century masters is long overdue.
In 1876, Thomas Eakins began teaching at the
Pennsylvania Academy and focused on the fundamentals of Thomas Eakins drawing
from the girl body. The painter was forced to resign in 1886 because he allowed
a class of students of mixed sexes to draw from a girl body model.
It was not until the early teens of the twentieth century, fueled by spokesmen such as Robert Henri, that his reputation began to grow. By the time of his death on June 25, 1916, his reputation as an artist enjoyed extensive re-evaluation, and Thomas Eakins was honored by a memorial show in 1917 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
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