Thomas Eakins Biography

(American Photographer, Realist Painter, Fine Arts Educator, and Sculptor)

Birthday: July 25, 1844 (Leo)

Born In: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States

Thomas Eakins was an American realist painter, counted amongst the most important artists in American art history. He was also a distinguished photographer credited with having "introduced the camera to the American art studio" following his studies abroad during which he was exposed to the techniques of French realist photographers. As a painter, he was mainly known for his realistic portraits and had painted several hundreds of them, usually of his friends, family members, or famous personalities. He was also famous for his paintings of scenes of outdoor sports, such as swimming and boating. Born as the son of a calligraphy teacher, he grew up observing his father at work and displayed an inclination towards artistic pursuits. He excelled in mechanical drawing as a school student and later on travelled to Europe to study painting with the French realist painter Jean-Léon Gérôme and also studied at the École des Beaux-Arts. Over the course of his study he realized his fascination with the nude female form, and his interest in realism. He painted prolifically upon his return to Europe and achieved moderate success. He also embarked on a career as an educator of fine arts and his teaching methods were considered controversial during those days. Eventually he was forced to resign from his teaching position. As an artist, he did not receive much fame during his lifetime, but in the years following his death, he was recognized as one of the finest artists in American art history.
Quick Facts

Also Known As: Икинс, Томас

Died At Age: 71


Spouse/Ex-: Susan Macdowell Eakins

Artists Realist Painters

Died on: June 25, 1916

U.S. State: Pennsylvania

More Facts

education: Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Thomas Jefferson University, Central High School

awards: National Academy Museum and School

Childhood & Early Life
Thomas Eakins was born on July 25, 1844, in Philadelphia, as the first child of Caroline Cowperthwait Eakins and Benjamin Eakins. He was of mixed ancestry. His father worked as a writing master and calligraphy teacher, and was very successful as a professional.
Thomas grew up to be an athletic boy who enjoyed rowing, ice skating, swimming, wrestling, sailing, and gymnastics. He also displayed an early interest in arts.
He attended Central High School where he excelled in mechanical drawing. Eventually he joined Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1861 where he studied drawing and anatomy. Furthering his fascination with human anatomy, he attended courses in anatomy and dissection at Jefferson Medical College from 1864 to 1865.
He travelled to Europe in 1866 and studied with the French realist painter Jean-Léon Gérôme before attending the atelier of Léon Bonnat. He also studied at the École des Beaux-Arts. It was during his stay in Europe that he became aware of his fascination with the nude female form which he considered to be one of the most artistic creations in nature.
After completing his studies in Paris, he went to Spain in late 1869 and was greatly impressed by 17th-century paintings of Diego Velázquez and José de Ribera. It was in Spain that he undertook his first independent efforts at oil painting.
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Thomas Eakins embarked on a career as a professional painter upon his return from Europe. Reflecting his love for sports, he created a large number of paintings of rowing scenes, of which ‘The Champion Single Sculling’, known also as ‘Max Schmitt in a Single Scull’ (1871) became the most famous.
During the early 1870s, he also began painting portraits of people, his early subject beings his sisters and other members of his family. He also made several paintings of his fiancée, Katherine Crowell and her family. His portraits of young women playing the piano, children engrossed with toys, and a girl playing with a kitten on her lap exuded the warmth of intimate home life.
Some of the major paintings he made during the 1870s are 'Home Scene' (1871), 'Elizabeth at the Piano' (1875), 'The Chess Players' (1876) , and 'Elizabeth Crowell and her Dog' (1874).
As a young man, Thomas Eakins continued pursuing his passion for sports like hunting, sailing, fishing, swimming, and rowing which not only provided him with adventure, but also with subject matter for his art.
Along with being a painter, he was also an educator of fine arts. He began his teaching career as a volunteer at the Pennsylvania Academy in 1876 and became a salaried professor in 1878. He rose through the ranks quickly to become director in 1882.
Eakins was also a skilled photographer credited to have "introduced the camera to the American art studio". He obtained his own camera in 1880, and many of his paintings including ‘Mending the Net’ (1881) and ‘Arcadia’ (1883) were derived at least in part from his photographs.
As an educator he often adopted controversial methods of teaching. Since he had a deep interest in all the aspects of the human figure, he stressed on the anatomical study of the human and animal body. While he was praised for being liberal, his teaching methods, especially when it came to nudes, caused considerable controversy.
He believed that women should be accorded the same professional privileges as men would be, and thus his women students had access to male models who were nude but for loincloths. In 1886, he removed the loincloth of a male model in a class where female students were present and was forced to resign because of the ensuing uproar over his inappropriate behavior.
He was a very popular teacher and several of his students were so agitated at his resignation that they broke with the Academy and formed the Art Students' League of Philadelphia in 1886 where Thomas Eakins subsequently instructed until 1893. He also taught at other schools including the Art Students League of New York, the National Academy of Design, Cooper Union, and the Art Students' Guild in Washington DC. He withdrew from teaching by 1898.
Major Work
Thomas Eakins’ 1875 painting, ‘The Gross Clinic’, is considered to be Thomas Eakins’ masterpiece. It depicts Dr. Samuel D. Gross lecturing a group of medical students. The painting, much criticized at the time of its making, is today celebrated as a great 19th century medical history painting, featuring one of the most superb portraits in American art.
Awards & Achievements
In 1902, he was made a National Academician, one of the few honors he received during his lifetime.
Personal Life & Legacy
He was initially engaged to a girl called Katherine Crowell who unfortunately died before the marriage could take place.
Thomas Eakins married one of his students, Susan Hannah Macdowell, in 1884. His wife was a talented painter in her own right though she did not paint much after marriage and instead chose to support her husband in his career. They did not have any children.
He died on June 25, 1916, aged 71, in Philadelphia.

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