ThomasCowperthwaitEakins[1844 – 1916] John Biglin in a Single Scull c. 1873
Thomas Eakins was one of many Americans who invaded Paris during the latter part of the nineteenth century to complete their artistic education.
After returning to his hometown of Philadelphia in 1870, Eakins never left the United States again. • He believed that great artists relied not on their knowledge of other artists’ works but on personal experience.
For the length of his professional career, from the early 1870s until his health began to fail some forty years later, Eakins worked exactingly from life, choosing as his subject the people of his hometown of Philadelphia.
He painted several hundred portraits, usually of friends, family members, or prominent people in the arts, sciences, medicine, and clergy.
The portraits offer an overview of the intellectual life of Philadelphia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; • Individually, they are incisive depictions of thinking persons.
At first Eakins painted only acquaintances The artist’s wife And setter dog.
In 1886 Eakins described her as … • "a lady of perhaps thirty years or more, and from Detroit. She came to the Academy some years ago to study figure painting by which art she hoped to support herself, her parents I believe being dead. I early recognized her as a very capable person. She had a temperament sensitive to color and form, was grave, earnest, thoughtful, and industrious. She soon surpassed her fellows, and I marked her as one I ought to help in every way...."
Eakins's helpfulness included unusual methods: • He once disrobed privately for Van Buren in order to demonstrate an anatomical point, an action that he characterized as purely professional. • Nevertheless, the story was one of numerous controversial incidents used by Eakins's political adversaries to prompt his dismissal from the Pennsylvania Academy.
Eakins produced a number of large paintings which brought the portrait out of the drawing room and into the offices, streets, parks, rivers, arenas, and surgical amphitheaters of his city.
These active outdoor venues allowed him to paint the subject which most inspired him: • The nude or lightly clad figure in motion. • In the process he could model the forms of the body in full sunlight, and create images of deep space utilizing his studies in perspective.
For the rest of his career, Eakins remained committed to recording realistic scenes from contemporary American life.
No less important in Eakins' life was his work as a teacher. • As an instructor he was a highly influential presence in American art.
Eakins's attitude toward realism in painting, and his desire to explore the heart of American life proved influential.
He taught hundreds of students, among them his future wife Susan Macdowell, African-AmericanpainterHenry Ossawa Tanner, and • Thomas Anshutz, who taught, in turn, Robert Henri, George Luks, John Sloan, and Everett Shinn, future members of the Ashcan School, and other realists and artistic heirs to Eakins' philosophy.
Though his is not a household name, and though during his lifetime Eakins struggled to make a living from his work, today he is regarded as one of the most important American artists of any period.
Eakins also took a keen interest in the new technologies of motion photography, a field in which he is now seen as an innovator. • Eakins was a controversial figure whose work received little by way of official recognition during his lifetime. • Since his death, he has been celebrated by American art historians as "the strongest, most profound realist in nineteenth-and early-twentieth-century American art".
'Lincoln and Grant', bronze sculptures by William Rudolf O'Donovan (men) & Thomas Eakins (horses), 1893-1894, Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn, New York City
During the three years Eakins was abroad, competitive rowing on the Schuylkill River, which runs through Philadelphia, had become the city’s leading sport. • The Super bowl of Philadelphia !
In England, rowing had long been regarded as the exclusive activity of gentlemen, but in Philadelphia anyone could take part, since rowing clubs made the expensive equipment available to all.
Those who chose not to participate could gather on the banks of the river to cheer the oarsmen on, and rowing competitions became some of the most popular sporting events of the century.
Eakins was an enthusiastic rower himself, but after his time in Paris he regarded the activity less as a form of recreation than a fertile source of subject matter that combined his dedication to modern life with his interest in anatomy.
Even before he embarked on a classical European education that involved drawing from the nude, Eakins had studied human anatomy as part of his artistic training.
Fascinated by the mechanics of movement, he was naturally drawn to athletes in action.
In 1872, the Biglin brothers came to Philadelphia to compete in a championship sculling race.
They were both professional rowers, and John Biglin was a superstar, unmatched as a single sculler (a rower who pulls an oar in each hand) and believed to possess the ideal rower’s physique.
Here, Biglin appears in his scull, or racing shell, in the heat of competition, his face fixed in concentration as a second shell streams forward on a parallel course.
Eakins has chosen the critical moment when the oarsman reaches the end of a backward stroke and prepares to dip his oars into the water; • His next stroke will propel his racing shell ahead of the competition and right out of the picture’s frame.
The river is full of activity on this bright summer day, • With a fleet of sailboats and a crew team visible in the distance, our attention is focused on Biglin, whose body and scull form an elongated triangle in the center of the picture.
The composition itself, with broad, even bands of sky and water, emphasizes the horizontal and imparts a stillness to the scene; • That counteracts the excitement of the competition.
When Eakins painted John Biglin in a Single Scull, he had only recently begun to work in watercolor
However, he applied himself to mastering the medium with the dedication and self-discipline he admired in the athletes he portrayed.
Water Colors • Unlike oil paint, watercolor does not allow for error: • It can’t be scraped off the surface and painted over if the artist makes a mistake or changes his mind. • Oil paints easily allows for this.
Many painters enjoy the spontaneity of the watercolor technique. • Eakins worked to ensure that everything came out right on his first attempt.
To establish the exact position of the rower, he first made an oil painting that could be corrected, if necessary.
And to place the reflections accurately in the water, he made detailed perspective drawings almost twice the size of the final work.