Happy birthday Thomas Eakins

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Thomas Eakins (July 25, 1844 — June 25, 1916) was an American realist painter and photographer. He is most known for his depiction of the human form, which, during his lifetime, caused much unrest in the art world. The son of a calligrapher, Eakins' work was meticulously planned and deeply realistic. He achieved his realism through the aid of a camera later in his career. Some of his works include Max Schmitt in a Single Scull (1871), The Chess Players (1876), and Thomas Eakins Carrying a Woman (1885).

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Eakins was born in Philadelphia to Caroline Cowperthwait and Benjamin Eakins. His father was a writing master and calligraphy teacher. Watching his father lay lines out so precisely influenced his work later. He excelled in mechanical drawing at Central High School and by 1861, began attending the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. He studied anatomy and became specifically interested in the human body.

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Portrait of Dr. Samuel D. Gross (The Gross Clinic)

In 1866, Eakins took a trip to Europe to study art. He studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris with the likes of Jean-Léon Gérôme. Later, he traveled to Spain, where he became enchanted with the realism in the works by Diego Velásquez and Jusepe de Ribera. There, he attempted his first oil painting, A Street Scene in Seville. By this point, Eakins had also already developed the belief that the human nude was one of the closest things to truth.

When he returned from Europe, the first set of works he completed were a series of rowing scenes. The most famous of these is Max Schmitt in a Single Scull (1871).

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During the same period, he also completed a series of indoor scenes, mostly depicting his family members and friends. Some of these include Home Scene (1871),

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Elizabeth at the Piano (1875),

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and The Chess Players (1876).

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Another of these was his first portrait, Kathrin (1872), who went on to become his fiancée until she died in 1879.

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In 1876, Eakins returned to the Pennsylvania Academy to teach. By 1882, he had risen to director. DUring this time he explored his interest in how the human and animal figures intersect with surgical dissection. He had students with aspirations of all kinds—to become painters, cartoonists, lithographers, and illustrators. The program became one of the most modern and liberal in the world.

Eakins became one of the first to introduce photography to the world of American art. He had been exposed to the method of using photography as an aid by the French realists, but the process was looked down upon by traditionalist artists. He began to use photography to capture motion. In 1880, he obtained a camera, and used it at least partially to create the works Mending the Net (1881), Arcadia (1883), and A May Morning in the Park (1880).

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He became more invested in photography when he created The Naked Series in 1883, a series of photographs of nude models (some of whom were his students) used to show the human form to his students. He took hundreds of photos, mostly in traditional poses, but the sheer number was a point of concern to many of his peers at the time.

After receiving complaints about questionable conduct with his students in teaching how to capture aspects of the human form, he resigned from his post. Despite this blow to his career, a number of loyal students formed the Art Students' League of Philadelphia where Eakins instructed. One of his students, Samuel Murray, went on to become his protégé and life-long friend.

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Taking the Count, (1898)

His effective dismissal from the Pennsylvania Academy left him hurt. His moved to a ranch in what is now North Dakota in hopes that the outdoors would cure him of the depression that had overtaken him. His work during his later years mostly focused on portraiture. Deeply affected by the scandals surrounding his work, many of his portraits are marked by a deep psychological presence in their subjects.

A year after his death, he was honored with a memorial retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In the modern art world, Eakins has emerged as a major figure in sexuality studies.

Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Friday, 25 July 2014
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