Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Thomas Eakins: Artist Out of His Time

He is regarded as one of the most important American artists. Still, most people don't know his name or his art work. He was featured on PBS' "American Masters." Yet, there was no stir or conversation about his art and biography. Who was this artist who mattered so much and so little all at the same time?


He was Thomas Eakins (1844-1916). (Notice that the dates of his lifetime coincide with the rise of the avant garde styles of Impressionism and Cubism.)In spite of the era, Eakins was true to his artistic instincts and that meant he was "deeply traditional."

Eakins was true to his believe in the beauty of nature especially the human form. If that meant going against the tide of popular techniques, so be it. That's not to say that he turned his back on what was new and exciting. (He was fascinated with photography and made many inventive contributions to motion studies.)It was more that Eakins disliked trends and affectations.

  He studied in Paris, Madrid and Seville. As Eakins traveled, he gained an appreciation of classical painters from earlier times whose portraitures explored the personality of the model.

Eakins' method was to paint portraits very slowly and meticulously. He spoke very little to his model. Most often, the person posing would relax and drop any facade. These portraits rendered a psychological realism not appreciated at the time - especially with all the interest in the new art movements. However, the passage of time changes many things.

Today, in the world of art, Eakins is highly regarded. In 1964, Tom Canaday, art critic for the New York Times wrote:

Today he seems to us to have recorded his fellow Americans with a perception that was often as tender as it was vigorous, and to have preserved for us the essence of an American life which, indeed, he did not idealize--because it seemed to him beautiful beyond the necessity of idealization.

All of the images on this blog are his paintings. What do you think of his work? Did you already know his name and art?  



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