Thomas Eakins, arguably America’s finest painter during the 19th century, cast his gaze around the vicinity that was Philadelphia and recorded his impressions in a wide swath of painted themes. Whether he was doing commissioned portraits or investigating the human figure in athletic competition, Eakins strove to maintain a balance between the marks of Nature and opportunities to see with greater clarity thanks to advances in technology (i.e., the camera). And yet, inexplicably, Eakins constantly had to battle criticism and disdain mercilessly directed toward him from the conservative powers of Philadelphia’s culture. In an 1894 letter to Harrison Morris, Eakins lamented: “My honours are misunderstanding, persecution, and neglect, enhanced because unsought.” As you look at/reflect on an early photograph of Eakins in his 30s and then at his self portrait completed shortly before his death, what are your thoughts on Eakins work and the vehement reaction directed toward him by a narrow-minded populace culturally contained/constrained in the past and resistant to the early manifestations of modernism?
Thomas Eakins, Self Portrait, ca 1902