Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Eakins, Thomas

The Champion Single Sculls (Max Schmitt in a Single Scull)
oil on canvas
81.9 x 117.5 cm
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, USA

Set on a river in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, it celebrates the victory of Eakins's boyhood friend Max Schmitt in the October 5, 1870, single sculls competition. The bridges behind the rowers can be identified as the Girard Avenue Bridge and the Connecting Railroad Bridge, respectively.

Thomas Cowperthwait Eakins (1844-1916) was an outstanding American realist painter of the 19th century, photographer, sculptor, and fine arts educator. He is widely acknowledged to be one of the most important artists in American art history. Born in Philadelphia, he passed the major part of his life there with the exception of a period of training in Europe, 1866-70. He studied in Paris, but learnt most from the Spanish painters Velazquez and Ribera, absorbing a precise and uncompromising sense for actuality which he applied to portraiture and genre pictures of the life of his native city.

Eakins worked exactingly from life, choosing as his subject the people of his hometown of Philadelphia. He painted several hundred portraits, usually of friends, family members, or prominent people in the arts, sciences, medicine, and clergy. Taken en masse, the portraits offer an overview of the intellectual life of Philadelphia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In addition, he produced a number of large paintings which brought the portrait out of the drawing room and into the offices, streets, parks, rivers, arenas, and surgical amphitheaters of his city. He also took a keen interest in the new technologies of motion photography, a field in which he is now seen as an innovator. He was a controversial figure whose work received little by way of official recognition during his lifetime. Since his death, he has been celebrated by American art historians as "the strongest, most profound realist in nineteenth-and early-twentieth-century American art".