Untitled Document

Artist Biography

 Born in Philadelphia, Thomas Eakins was a portrait and genre painter whom many regard as the father of modern realism in American Art. Embodying many of the ideals of advances in science, industry, and technology of his time, he was an avid student of science and anatomy, resulting in collisions with the moral boundaries of the Victorian era. In his quest for anatomical accuracy in his work, Eakins was a pioneer in his use of photography in art making, and established a tradition of portraiture that was distinctly American, his knowledge of the human body allowing him to create a sense of naturalism in his artwork.

From 1866 to 1869, he was at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris as a student of historical painter, Jean Leon Gerome. In Gerome’s version of academic painting, tone came first, and mastery of gradations of black and white were essential. Gerome was fanatic about drawing in preparation to painting, but Eakins later developed his own approach to preparatory drawings, purchasing a camera in 1880, a tool that became central to much of his art.


Eakins traveled widely during his time in Europe, but perhaps his most important visit was to Spain, where he hoped to gain relief from illness and depression. While in Spain he was exposed to work of Francisco Goya and Diego Velazquez, major influences on his emerging naturalistic style and his use of multi-layered glazes. He did not follow the path of many artists of his period who used the dashing, light- handed methods of the Impressionists or the subtle, mood evoking palette of the Tonalists. He was not interested in Impressionism, but rather in ‘reality’


Upon his return to Paris from Spain, he found it necessary to leave due to the political instability brought on by the Franco-Prussian War (1870). Back in Philadelphia, he continued to attend anatomy and dissection exercises at Jefferson Medical Center and registered for surgical demonstrations at the Jefferson Hospital Gross Clinic. In fact, one of Eakins most famous later paintings, The Gross Clinic, of 1875 depicts a surgery by one of the Jefferson School physicians and was shockingly realistic at that time. For many years, the painting remained at the Jefferson Hospital, but in 2007 hospital personnel decided to sell the work to raise money for the hospital. Representatives of the National Gallery of Art and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas offered $68 million dollars, but fundraising in Philadelphia raised an equal amount, and the work was secured for the Philadelphia Museum.

References:
Matthew Baigell, Dictionary of American Art
Ronal L. Nagel, Thomas Eakins: Painter of Doctors and Other American ‘Doers website of the Philadelphia Museum, philamuseum.org
website of pbs.org for the documentary: Thomas Eakins: Scenes from Modern Life tigtail.org.
"National News", ARTnews, February 2007