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Thomas Eakins photography

July 2015

 

Thomas Eakins (American, 1844-1916) '(Thomas Eakins and John Laurie Wallace on a Beach)' c. 1883

 

Thomas Eakins (American, 1844-1916)
(Thomas Eakins and John Laurie Wallace on a Beach)
c. 1883
Public domain

 

 

The great American painter and photographer Thomas Eakins was devoted to the scientific study of the human form and committed to its truthful representation. While he and his students at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts were surrounded by casts of classical sculpture, Eakins declared that he did not like “a long study of casts. … At best they are only imitations, and an imitation of imitations cannot have so much life as an imitation of life itself.” Photography provided an obvious solution.

This photograph, in which Eakins and a student affected the elegant contrapposto stances of classical sculpture, was probably taken during an excursion with students to Manasquan Inlet at Point Pleasant, New Jersey, during the summer of 1883. Valuing his photographs not only as studies for paintings but also for their own sake, Eakins carefully printed the best images on platinum paper. In this case, he went to the additional trouble of enlarging the original, horizontally formatted image and cropping it vertically to better contain the perfectly balanced figures.

Text from The Metropolitan Museum of Art website

 

 

Please click on the photography for a larger version of the image.

Marcus

 

 

For Eakins, the camera was a teaching device comparable to anatomical drawing, a tool the modern artist should use to train the eye to see what was truly before it.

 

 

In the 1880s, through a series of technical advances that greatly simplified its practice, photography had expanded from being the province solely of the specialist into an activity accessible to the millions. To define photography as a discipline distinct from its casual, commercial, and scientific applications became the overriding goal of many American artists in the last two decades of the century, who claimed for it a place commensurate with those artistic endeavours that celebrated the complex, irreducible subjectivity of their makers. The photographs of Thomas Eakins are a perfect example of this development.

In addition to being an accomplished painter, watercolorist, and teacher, Thomas Eakins was a dedicated and talented photographer. Working with a wooden view camera, glass plate negatives, and the platinum print process, he distinguished himself from most other painters of his generation by mastering the technical aspects of the new medium and requiring his students to do the same. For Eakins, the camera was a teaching device comparable to anatomical drawing (43.87.23; 43.87.19), a tool the modern artist should use to train the eye to see what was truly before it.

Although it is not known from whom or when Eakins learned photography, it is clear that by 1880 he had already incorporated the camera into his professional and personal life. The vast majority of photographs attributed to Eakins are figure studies (nude and clothed) and portraits of his pupils (43.87.17), extended family (including himself) (43.87.23), and immediate friends (41.142.2). More than 225 negatives survive in the Bregler collection at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and approximately 800 images are currently attributed to Eakins and his circle – ample proof of the intensity with which Eakins worked with the camera.

Eakins did not generally use photographs as a preparatory aid to painting, although there are a small number of oils which have direct counterparts in existing photographs: the Amon Carter Museum’s The Swimming Hole [below] and the Metropolitan’s Arcadia [below] being the foremost examples. To the contrary, Eakins saw a different role for photography – one related to his extraordinary interest in knowing the figure and improving his sensitivity to complex figure-ground relationships. Committed to teaching close observation through the practice of dissection and preparatory wax and plaster sculpture, Eakins introduced the camera to the American art studio. At first his photographs were likely quick studies of pose and gesture; later, perhaps during the process of editing and cropping the negatives, and then making enlarged platinum prints, he saw the photographs as discrete works of art on paper, at their best on equal status with his watercolours.

The artistic freedom of the classical world that Eakins strove to bring to life in his academic programs at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (and in his Arcadian paintings) also appears as an important element in many of his nude studies (43.87.19) with the camera. These photographs, far more than the paintings, celebrate the male physique; even today, more than a century after their creation, their unabashed frontal nudity still has the power to shock contemporary eyes.

Text from The Metropolitan Museum of Art website October 2004 [Online] Cited 16/08/2021

Citation: Department of Photographs. “Thomas Eakins (1844-1916): Photography, 1880s–90s,” in Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000

 

Thomas Eakins 'Thomas Eakins and J. Laurie Wallace at the Shore' 1883

 

Thomas Eakins (American, 1844-1916)
Thomas Eakins and J. Laurie Wallace at the Shore
1883

 

Thomas Eakins 'Thomas Eakins and J. Laurie Wallace at the Shore' 1883

 

Thomas Eakins (American, 1844-1916)
Thomas Eakins and J. Laurie Wallace at the Shore
1883

 

Thomas Eakins 'Thomas Eakins and J. Laurie Wallace at the Shore' 1883

 

Thomas Eakins (American, 1844-1916)
Thomas Eakins and J. Laurie Wallace at the Shore
1883

 

Thomas Eakins (American, 1844-1916) '(Three Boys Wading in a Creek)' 1883

 

Thomas Eakins (American, 1844-1916)
(Three Boys Wading in a Creek)

 

 

In 1882, Thomas Eakins was promoted to the post of director of schools at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he became known as a charismatic and innovative teacher who advocated intensive study of the nude figure. Committed to teaching close observation through every means possible, Eakins turned his school into a laboratory of photographic experimentation. He and his students (male and female) made negatives of each other – in lithe repose or in action, nude or in costume. At times, Eakins must have realised that he was pushing the limits of Philadelphia decorum. This small 4 x 5 albumen silver print shows several of Eakins’ nephews playing in a creek on the property of the artist’s sister Frances and her husband, William J. Crowell. In the 1880s, Eakins spent much of his free time at the Crowell family home in Avondale, Pennsylvania, thirty miles southwest of Philadelphia. Distant from urban distractions, the idyllic farm soon became a refuge for him. The Crowell children delighted Eakins and he made many photographs of their spirited games.

Text from The Metropolitan Museum of Art website

 

Thomas Eakins (1844-1916) 'Arcadia' c. 1883

 

Thomas Eakins (American, 1844-1916)
Arcadia
c. 1883
Oil on canvas
98.1 × 114.3cm (38.6 × 45 in)
Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Thomas Eakins (1844-1916) 'Swimming / The swimming hole' 1885

 

Thomas Eakins (American, 1844-1916)
Swimming / The swimming hole
1885
Oil on canvas
27.625 × 36.625 in (70.2 × 93cm)
Amon Carter Museum of American Art

 

Thomas Eakins 'Unidentified model, Thomas Anschutz and J. Laurie Wallace' 1883

 

Thomas Eakins (American, 1844-1916)
Unidentified model, Thomas Anschutz and J. Laurie Wallace
1883

 

Thomas Eakins 'Unidentified model, Thomas Anschutz and J. Laurie Wallace' 1883

 

Thomas Eakins (American, 1844-1916)
Unidentified model, Thomas Anschutz and J. Laurie Wallace
1883

 

Thomas Eakins. 'Wrestlers' 1899

 

Thomas Eakins (American, 1844-1916)
Wrestlers
1899
Oil on canvas
48 3/8 x 60 in. (122.87 x 152.4cm)
Image: Museum Associates/LACMA
Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) Image Library

 

 

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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