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Thomas Eakins photography

July 2015

 

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.

 

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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 endeavors 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 watercolors.

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

 

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

 

 

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 teaching at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Eakins made at least two excursions with his students in order to make a series of nudes out of doors. This photograph was probably made during the summer of 1883 at Manasquan Inlet at Point Pleasant, New Jersey. Although neither of the figures in this study play the pipes, the photograph seems related to the unfinished oil Arcadia, in the Metropolitan’s collection [below]. Posed at the edge of a lake, with hands behind their backs, or dangling, the figures seem to float, lost in thought. They are neither athletes nor swimmers contemplating a dip in the water, but two common men – professor (Eakins) and student (J. Laurie Wallace) – each an Adam. Direct and revealing, such photographs celebrate the body and increase our understanding of Eakins’ refined naturalism and his respect for the essential beauty and complexity of the human form. (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 × 114.3 cm (38.6 × 45 in)
Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

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 (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 × 93 cm)
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 152.4 cm)
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 work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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