The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts: Thomas Eakins

4 Apr

Thomas Eakins, The Gross Clinic (1875)

Thomas Eakins, Prizefights (1898)

Note: click on any image to enlarge

For my next several posts I want to focus on the great art tradition of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia — the oldest art institute in the United States and certainly one of the finest.  For the sort of realist art which interests me the Pennsylvania Academy is the lodestar.

Thomas Eakins, Self Portrait (1904)

To my mind the great tradition of modern American realist painting begins with Thomas Eakins (1844-1916).  In addition to being one of the greatest realist painters in American art history, Eakins was one of its most accomplished teachers.  He assumed principal teaching responsibilities at the Pennsylvania Academy in around 1876 and was its principal instructor until about 1886.

Thomas Eakins, Max Schmitt in a Single Scull (1871)

Because of his interest in working from life, by the early 1880s the Pennsylvania Academy’s curriculum was the most “liberal and advanced in the world.”  Eakins believed strongly in the individuality of his students, allowing each to develop in his or her own way with only brief but incisive guidance.  He placed female students on a par with males, going so far as to allow female students to paint the male figure — unheard of at the time.  It was this liberality, ultimately, that led to Eakins’s dismissal from the Academy in 1886.

Thomas Eakins, Wrestlers (1899)

Thomas Eakins, Portrait of Henry Ossawa Tanner (c. 1897)

Eakins was a pioneer of the use of photography in art — and as art.  His students included Henry Ossawa Tanner, Thomas Pollock Anshutz, Edward Willis Redfield, Colin Campbell Cooper, Alice Barber Stephens, Frederick Judd Waugh, T.S. Sullivant and A.B. Frost.

Thomas Eakins, Between Rounds (1898-99)

Of these, Anshutz was perhaps the most influential.  Anshutz replaced Eakins as principal instructor at the Pennsylvania Academy and there went on to teach the likes of Robert Henri, John French Sloan and William Glackens — all founding members of the Ashcan School and all great favorites of mine.  I will be highlighting their work in upcoming posts.  For now, I hope you simply enjoy Eakins.  He pioneered a new, specifically-American sort of art that is still going strong to this day.

Thomas Eakins, Singing a Pathetic Song (1881)

Thomas Eakins, Portrait of Maud Cook (1895)

Thomas Eakins, The Meadows, Gloucester (c. 1882-83)

Thomas Eakins, Starting Out After Rail (1874)

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