Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

By late 1912, in his sixty­-eighth year, Thomas Eakins – who today is frequently referred to as the greatest of American painters, notwithstanding more familiar names such as Homer, Whistler and Wyeth­ – was a tired and ailing man. The compact, rugged physique he had retained throughout his middle years had finally given way; first, briefly, to an almost delicate obesity; then, with progressing illness, to a stooped, wasted shell. His sturdy legs, a cyclist’s and skater’s, increasingly failed him, so that he required a steadying arm to get out and around. As his sight grew dim and his hand unsteady, his painting dwindled rapidly; his last completed work was be­hind him.

One day in late November, against his doctor’s orders, the fragile Eakins, supported by his devoted companion and former pupil, sculptor Samuel Murray, boarded the train at Philadelphia for the two hour ride west to the busy provin­cial city of Lancaster, to wit­ness the opening of an exhibition of portraiture. The exhibit, intended to honor painters and subjects of Lan­caster, held special significance for Eakins. Prominently hung amid a large and uneven col­lection in the garish splendor of the new Woolworth Build­ing was a huge canvas he felt certain was one of the great paintings of the nineteenth century: his own The Agnew Clinic.

Eakins’ portrait of D. Hayes Agnew, the great Philadelphia surgeon and professor of med­icine born in Lancaster County, had been shown pub­licly only twice in the twenty­-three years since it had been painted. Refused for exhibit by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where Eakins had both studied and taught, it had also been turned down by the Society of American Artists on grounds of “neglect of the beauties and graces of painting.” Like The Gross Clinic, which Eakins had painted some ten years earlier, the Agnew canvas had scan­dalized the conservative art establishment by depiction of its subject actually performing surgery, and in detail so un­flinchingly and vividly realistic that one critic sniffed that “as for people with nerves and stomachs … they might as well go to a dissecting room and have done with it.”

The painter had grown used to the high conservatism of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts by 1890 – he had been stubbornly battling it, mostly in his work, for two decades. But rejection by the Society of American Artists, which had been formed in 1877 as a progressive alterna­tive to the powerful academy system, and of which he was a member, was more than Eakins could swallow quietly. The Agnew Clinic, he wrote to the society’s ruling committee, was “a composition more important than any I have ever seen upon your walls.” Fur­thermore, for three years the society had refused to show any of his paintings. That duration eliminated “all ele­ments of chance,” and the difference of opinion regarding his work was “irreconcilable.” He severed his association with the society.

The Thomas Eakins who was helped from the train at the Lancaster station was a man in whom such fire had burned to embers. “Mr. Eakins,” his widow Susan McDowell later told art histo­rian Lloyd Goodrich, was a man who “had had blows.” In face and figure he had come to resemble his late father Ben­jamin, the owlish Philadelphia writing master. In manner, he was “a silent man, not sad exactly, but disappointed … he had not been able to do what he wanted to do.” Sometimes, recalling his youth, the old man would quote from Dante in Italian. “I was so sorry,” his widow told Goodrich, “that I couldn’t understand it.”

Three of his paintings­ – minor works of the prodigious output of a forty-year career­ – hung in public collections. Aside from infrequent portrait commissions, he had not sold a picture in fifteen years; the studio in the attic of his fa­ther’s house on Mount Vernon Street was stacked high with finished canvases. He contin­ued to exhibit, even if painting was practically impossible, but did so less frequently, chiefly for the major national and international exhibitions.

The Lancaster show, by contrast, presented a varied collection, largely historical works of regional, some only local, interest. Eakins’ canvas, a monumental six by eleven foot oil, was by far its center­piece, a great fish among min­nows. The exhibit was opened by state attorney-general and honorable Lancastrian W. U. Hensel, whose profile graced a gold medal struck on the occa­sion of his sixtieth birthday. Eakins was pleased that pre­view night at his picture’s conspicuous hanging in the huge upper hall of the Woolworth Building, and pleased also, no doubt, to be among a small circle of former students and acquaintances from amid the local throng. The great painter remained unnoticed by the milling crowd until, his presence an­nounced, he received an ova­tion before leaving early for the return trip to Philadelphia.

That November evening stayed with Thomas Eakins for the remaining four years of his life, and afterward he often spoke of the pleasure it had given him. Looking back, Susan McDowell Eakins would characterize the simple, warm reception he had been given at Lancaster as “the most com­forting experience” of her husband’s lonely – and embittered – career.

Thomas Eakins died on June 25, 1916, in the city where, but for four years abroad learning his art at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, he had lived his entire life. “You should hear me tell the Frenchmen about Philadel­phia,” he had written from Paris as a twenty-two-year-old in 1866.

I feel 6 ft. 6 inches high when­ever I only say I am an American; but seriously speaking … Phila­delphia is certainly a city to be proud of, and has advantages for happiness only to be fully appreci­ated after leaving it.

Leaving Philadelphia, de­spite a troubled relationship during the following decades, was something he apparently never seriously considered. The promise – unfulfilled – of a salary increase, Eakins once wrote bitterly to the Pennsyl­vania Academy, had been “a large factor in (his) determination to remain in Philadel­phia.” But he remained there long after the Academy had stopped paying him at all, having forced his resignation and effectively torpedoed his reputation. He liked the physi­cality, the outdoor life of Phila­delphia and its woodsy environs, the vigor and mo­tion: bicycling in Fairmount Park, rowing on the Schuylkill, skating and horseback riding at his brother-in-law’s farm in rural Chester County. By tem­perament, he was in many ways well-suited to the city’s Quaker sense of sober indus­try, its bustling lack of preten­sion. His cropped hair and beard, sturdy frame and plain rough clothing suggested nothing of the dandiness of the late nineteenth century artiste, but rather a venerable Philadelphia figure: the edu­cated artisan.

Thomas Eakins approached art from the firm footing of science. His understanding of anatomy remains unrivaled in American art, and he provided for the Academy a course in the subject, heavily emphasiz­ing student practice at dissec­tion, that was unheard of for art students, and scarcely equaled by medical schools of the day. The pioneering work of Eadweard Muybridge in motion photography spurred Eakins to several years’ experi­mentation aimed at under­standing animal locomotion. The painter later presented before the Academy of Natural Science a monograph clarify­ing the muscular processes that make up a horse’s gait. His knowledge of mathemati­cal perspective was similarly profound, and he is said to have been fond of working calculus problems as a means of relaxation. “In mathemat­ics,” he told his students, “the complicated things are re­duced to simple things. So it is in painting.”

He detested prettiness, and his art had the weight and solidity, the direct somber force, of his native city. He attacked his subjects by main force, bringing his knowledge of perspective and anatomy to the service of a breathtaking realism, yet he wrenched out of the battle a profound deli­cacy, a fineness of feeling, an evocation of character, that transcends and transforms the merely realistic. There is in his portraits – of resolute scholars, inscrutable bankers, earnest musicians, pensive young women – a dark, noble stoi­cism, a poignant eternal ten­sion between anguish and control, played out behind the leaden hush of drawing room draperies.

Thomas Eakins’ dauntless, if wintry, honesty might well have endeared him to a flat­-ahead city like Philadelphia, with its proud brown tradi­tions in medicine, law, science and commerce – and among some circles it did. He was comfortably active in the city’s estimable intellectual life: physicians, professors, teach­ers, musicians – or the less hidebound among them – were his frequent hosts and guests; the dining room at his Mount Vernon Street house was fitted with a blackboard to facilitate dinner discussions. Although apparently agnostic, he was friendly with the city’s Catho­lic hierarchy, and in middle age would regularly ride his bicycle out through Fairmount Park to the St. Charles Semi­nary in Overbrook to spend Sunday afternoons with the priests. In late life a devoted friend was Billy Smith, a tiny, plainspoken man whom Eakins had met and painted as a featherweight boxer.

He was altogether well­-equipped to show the city its true reflection. Unfortunately, not the least of his equipment was a combination of naivete and stubbornness that blinded him against realizing that true reflection was not at all what the city’s hoary gentry wanted to see. “Old Philadelphians,” historian Nathaniel Burt wrote, “were quite unwilling not to be flattered.” They had, after all, become quite accus­tomed to portraiture of a rather more refined type, and a tradi­tion of artistic accommodation dating back to Benjamin West. And they – the city’s ruling class – were after all the ones who mattered. “There are few if any American cities,” Burt believed, “where the connec­tions between art and the aristocrat have been so close, not always to their mutual benefit.” And no place, he added, “where the arts are or have been generally regarded with less real esteem.”

Old Philadelphia – and the new Philadelphia of Eakins’ day – wanted in its artists bright butterflies, lightweight figures well aware of their small importance, creators of tasteful diversions on canvas and in the salon with well­-developed capacities for appre­ciation of the city’s only truly significant arts: the cultivation of wealth and appearances. For Philadelphia, in the years following the Civil War, em­barked on an era of great, brute prosperity, of immense industrial and commercial fortunes made by a new class of men who would now ap­proximate a gentry of their own. The apparently omnipo­tent Pennsylvania Railroad, its heart at the city’s core and its sturdy tendrils stretching to the Commonwealth’s rich oil fields and coal regions, was, near the end of the nineteenth century, the largest, wealthiest corporation in the country. Philadelphia iron and steel manufacturing industries had achieved world renown. In politics, the city was domi­nated by a powerful Republi­can machine.

Content and conservative, Philadelphia’s attitude toward art and artists was perhaps most clearly stated by the Evening Telegraph during the Centennial Exhibition of 1876.

Art in all its forms is after all with most people but a means of recreation after the serious busi­ness of life is attended to …. Good music is good, and good pictures are good, and good statuary is good, and good books are good, but we can do without them all and yet get along very comfortably and very happily …. An artist … like every other business man … will manufacture the kind of goods his customers want to buy.

That spring a Centennial Exhibition committee had refused The Gross Clinic for its art gallery because of its vivid depiction of blood on a great surgeon’s hands. Instead, Eakins early masterpiece hung in the fair’s medical exhibit. Three years later, for two hun­dred dollars, the Jefferson Medical College purchased the work, later widely regarded as the most important American painting of its century.

The considerable row over the portrait of Samuel D. Gross, a leading figure at Jefferson Medical College, was only the first exchange in a long and bitter war. For Eakins, in his person as in his work, lacked entirely the gra­ces that vaulted lesser contemporaries – including students and friends – to greater fame. And graces, after all, were the thing wanted: the silky panache of a William Merritt Chase or John Singer Sargent; the expatriate aesthet­icism and mordant wit of a James McNeill Whistler. Thomas Eakins brought only a stubbornness to match the crass arrogance of his po­maded adversaries. From an early age he was both blunt and spare with words. Asked to make an address for his graduation from Central High School, he refused, claiming he had done nothing original, and that whatever he had learned had been from books where others might easily find it “My prominent idea of a polite man is one who is noth­ing but foolish,” Eakins wrote once from Paris. “If there was anything else in him the polish would never be noticed.” A woman friend later remem­bered to Lloyd Goodrich that Eakins “would always use the word” for things, including bodily functions. He was fond of “improper” stories, and not particular about to whom he told them. Most shocking of all to the Philadelphia of his day, he frequently asked the young women whose portraits he painted to pose nude for him, persisting to do so for years, despite apparently unanimous and often indignant rebuffs from the young ladies and their protectors – rebuffs which each seemingly surprised him afresh. Goodrich, who inter­viewed scores of Eakins’ friends and subjects in the 1930s, found that many later regretted such modesty, one of whom even remembered hav­ing been warned that the artist might”say something disgusting.”

Thomas Eakins was just as disinclined to compromise propriety in his work. Subjects complained at his insistence on painting them in a worn pair of shoes or an old jacket. He convinced the banker Wil­liam Kurtz not to shave for twenty-four hours before pos­ing. Still more distressing were his steely refusals to romanti­cize his subjects. Pres. Ruther­ford B. Hayes, painted in July heat, was depicted in shirt­-sleeves, his face glistening with perspiration and alto­gether too ruddy for a Temper­ance man’s. Not long afterward, the Union League, which had commissioned the portrait, replaced it with a more conventional rendering, and Eakins’ version was either lost or destroyed. Other por­traits were refused, returned, hidden under beds and in closets. One Philadelphian, having commissioned and paid for likenesses of himself and his wife, on receiving the paintings had his butler de­liver the unopened crate di­rectly to the furnace.

Poet Walt Whitman admired Eakins as the only artist he knew of who “could resist the temptation to see what (he thinks) ought to be rather than what is.” Illustrator Edwin Austin Abbey perhaps ap­proached the same truth when asked why he wouldn’t sit for Eakins. “He would bring out all those traits of my character I have been trying to conceal from the public for years,” Abbey explained.

Eakins’ response to criti­cism of the unconventionality of his work and behavior was simple. He kept on doing what he had always done. In one instance noteworthy as an exception, he apparently agreed, out of respect for his subject, Dr. Jacob Mendez Da Costa, a Philadelphia physi­cian, to re-paint a portrait. Before relenting, however, Eakins railed at the doctor’s citing his friends’ and the local newspapers’ opinions.

As to your friends, I have known some of them whom I esteem greatly to give most injudi­cious art advice and to admire what was ignorant, ill­-constructed, vulgar and bad; and as to the concurrent testimony of the newspapers .. .I wonder at your mentioning them after our many conversations regarding them.

I presume my position in art is not second to your own in medi­cine, and I can hardly imagine myself writing to you a letter like this: ‘Dear Doctor, The concur­rent testimony of the newspapers and of friends is that your treat­ment of my case has not been one of your successes. I therefore suggest that you treat me a while with Mrs. Brown’s Metaphysical Discovery.’

The patrons of art in Philadelphia – old blood and parvenu – had one thing in common. They wanted to patronize the ennobling, the sophisticated, the amusing, the Continental. They wanted to be flattered, as they flattered themselves through the crowded months of the social calendar. From the far reaches of the Main Line to Rit­tenhouse Square, they wanted one thing above all: Respecta­bility. Art, if not imported, should look like it had been. This fellow Eakins – unkempt, disagreeable, and living, for heaven’s sake, in that declasse wasteland north of Market Street – dearly cared for none of it. For nothing, in fact, ex­cept his work. His credo might have been a declaration of war. “Respectability in art,” he warned his students at the Pennsylvania Academy, “is appalling.”

The school of the Pennsyl­vania Academy of the Fine Arts, at which Eakins had studied before going to France and to which he returned, first as unpaid assistant, then as professor of drawing and painting, and finally as direc­tor, was to represent those elements of Philadelphia against which Eakins seemed destined to do battle. Founded in 1805 by a syndicate of the city’s prominent citizens, the Academy was – and is – one of the country’s oldest art institu­tions. The original building, a domed rotunda in a remote western sector of the city, was a dreary place of leaky roofs and crumbling statuary by the time the eighteen year old Eakins enrolled in 1862. The course of study was thor­oughly conventional – based on long years of drawing from casts of ancient sculpture – and just as thoroughly mediocre. Edwin Austin Abbey, who enrolled in 1868, called it a “fusty, fudgy place,” a “dank basement (where) worthy young men … caught colds … and slumbered peacefully … during long anatomical lectures,” and thought of noth­ing but “the grand business, the ‘High Art.'”

Eakins stayed four years, then decided like many of his more ambitious classmates that for learning to paint, he must go to Paris. By the time he returned to the Academy as an assistant ten years later, it had transformed itself, with a monumental new building on Broad and Cherry streets and a more formalized course of instruction. Largely under Eakins’ influence over the course of the next decade, the school became nationally, and even internationally, promi­nent, and among American schools a close second in repu­tation to the National Acad­emy of Design in New York. As a teacher, Eakins gained similar renown, although he continued to face indifference and even hostility as an artist. But the inevitable break be­tween these unlikely partners was caustic, and Eakins’ forced resignation from the school’s directorship, and the scandal that ensued, wounded him deeply.

Trouble began with Eakins’ first informal teaching. Unlike the National Academy of De­sign, the Pennsylvania Acad­emy of the Fine Arts was both owned and controlled by lay­men, not artists. Its various boards and committees were steered by some of the most prominent – and conservative – of the city’s old families, overwhelmingly bankers and merchants. There were exceptions, of course. John Sartain, an internation­ally renowned engraver, had been an influential director of the academy, but he resigned at the outset of Eakins’ career there, because, he said, the artists were not given enough say in things. Nevertheless, Sartain himself had been largely responsible for the rejection of The Gross Clinic for the Centennial Exhibition. It was, perhaps, through the hearty support of another exception, the engineer and sportsman, Fairman Rogers, that Eakins lasted at the Acad­emy for as long as he did. Within months of his new association with the school – as an unpaid assistant for his friend, professor Christian Schussele – Eakins ruffled feathers with an unsolicited suggestion that the Academy find some respectable girls to do the nude modeling, as the prostitutes being used were “coarse, flabby, ill-formed, and unfit in every way.” His letter to John Sartain even included suggested wording for a news­paper advertisement to be placed over the latter’s signature.

Not two months later, in March 1877, a group of Acad­emy students, citing insuffi­cient hours available for study of the nude, rented a room on Juniper Street and formed a school of their own, with Eakins as their teacher. His ideas on instruction, shaped by his study in Paris, differed radically from Schussele’s traditional approach. Where Schussele required long ap­prenticeship in drawing, mainly from the antique, Eakins urged an almost imme­diate immersion in painting­ – to “face all the difficulties at once” – and a substantial cut­ting of antique study in favor of the nude model. There was, however, no animosity be­tween the two teachers, and as Schussele fell increasingly victim to a paralytic illness, Eakins took charge of the older man’s evening classes while teaching at Juniper Street during the day.

Despite Schussele’s grow­ing incapacitation, the Acad­emy’s board of directors voted in May that he not be allowed to delegate his responsibilities, and Eakins was forced to leave the Academy. Subsequent student pressure and ebbing enrollment led to his reinstate­ment in early 1878 by a curious machination in which Eakins, at request of Fairman Rogers, notified the board of directors that he would be willing to return if only they would grant Schussele power to delegate his charge. Appearances thus preserved, Eakins was offered the title of assistant professor and chief demonstrator of anatomy, without salary. When it could no longer be ignored that Schussele was physically incapable of teach­ing, the Academy committee on instruction considered forcing his resignation, but demurred when informed that Eakins, the de facto professor, was prepared to resign himself to protect the older man’s livelihood. Half a year later Schussele was dead, and Eakins his successor.

The changes shortly wrought by Eakins and Rogers were no less than radical. The extended study of the nude and early immersion in paint­ing were accompanied by an applied anatomy program that was without parallel in any art school. The traditional empha­sis on aesthetics and the Old Masters of European academic painting were virtually ig­nored, replaced by clay model­ing and technical lectures on perspective. Photography was incorporated as a teaching tool. On the whole, the new program bore the reflection of its modeler: it was narrowly focused, pragmatic, rigorous. It was designed with regard for a single purpose, the train­ing of serious artists.

There were complaints about the unorthodoxy, amid a wash of attention. Fairman Rogers defended the pro­gram’s narrow scope. “Picture­making,” he said, is not the art school’s province, but “is bet­ter learned outside, in private studios, in the fields, from nature, by reading, from a careful study of other pictures, of engravings, of art exhibi­tions:’ Eakins himself spoke at length about his design to a reporter dispatched to the school by Harper’s Magazine. “The Greeks,” he explained, “did not study from the an­tique.” The school’s reputation spread, and Eakins began lecturing on anatomy in New York and elsewhere. In March 1882, he was appointed direc­tor of the school.

In 1883, Fairman Rogers, who had become Eakins’ friend and champion, resigned from the Academy’s board of directors. The “radical” Eakins’ relationship with the conserva­tive board, bereft of the buffer provided by Rogers’ formida­ble presence, began to deterio­rate. The board, concerned about the school’s increasing financial problems, had begun charging tuition for the first time in 1882. The following year, the school had achieved self-sufficiency, but thereafter slipped back to a considerable yearly deficit. Moreover, al­though enrollment had in­creased during the early years of Eakins’ tenure and re­mained steady thereafter, several of the directors appar­ently feared that the new pro­gram was alienating a significant group of students and supporters, specifically that group of young women who made up half the school’s enrollment, as well as their parents.

Although the majority of Eakins’ students clearly sup­ported and even revered him, some among his students and small staff of assistants were critical of his methods. More damaging were rumors, diffi­cult to substantiate, which multiplied around the issue of nudity in Eakins’ classrooms. In a letter written after he had left the Academy, Eakins at­tempted to explain himself.

In pursuance of my business and professional studies, I use the naked model. A number of my women pupils have for economy studied from each others’ figures, and of these some have obtained from time to time my criticisms on their work. I have frequently used as models for myself my male pupils; very rarely female pupils and then only with the knowledge and consent of their mothers.

The board of directors had passed a rule against use of students in the life class. Eakins may have ignored it. The rumors, at any rate, con­tinued, and emotions surged to meet them. At least one concerned citizen, anonymous but for her initials, took the liberty of addressing James L. Claghorn, president of the Academy.

Does it pay for a young lady of a refined, godly household to be urged as the only way of obtaining a knowledge of true Art, to enter a class where every feeling of maid­enly delicacy is violated, where she becomes so hardened to indeli­cate sights and words, so familiar with the persons of degraded women and the sight of nude males, that no possible art can restore her lost treasure of chaste and delicate thoughts!

Eakins did nothing to fur­ther endear himself to the board when, in the midst of such controversy, he urgently reminded it of a three-year­-unfulfilled agreement to dou­ble his salary. The situation deteriorated until February 1886, when the directors re­quested, and promptly re­ceived, Eakins’ resignation. The immediate cause was rumored to have been an inci­dent in which Eakins, angered at being hampered in his anat­omy lectures, snatched the loincloth from a male model in front of a class of young women. Whether or not this incident actually precipitated the board’s action, it accurately dramatized the irreducible conflict between Eakins and the conservative art world of his day.

Eakins’ quietly worded resignation drowned almost immediately in a frenzied public reaction. Philadelphia daily newspapers echoed the blow-by-blow of charge and countercharge, of opinion and rumor. Eakins’ students, or those who were vocal, rallied to his defense. Forty male students marched down Chestnut Street to the master’s studio.

Each man wore a large E on the front of his hat as a symbol that he was for Eakins first, last and all the time. On reaching [Eakins’ studio] they came to a halt and cheered lustily for their head instructor. After waiting a reasonable length of time for him to appear, and seeing no sign of his appearance, they dispersed to their homes.

The men drew up a petition for presentation to the board, “respectfully and earnestly” requesting Ea.kins’ reinstate­ment. A group of female stu­dents prepared a similar petition. One student was quoted as suggesting that Eakins’ permanent dismissal would likely lead to a virtual emptying of the school. In response to the students, one of the directors scoffed at the very notion that Eakins be asked back. ‘The whole matter is settled,” he told a reporter, “and that is all there is about it. The idea of allowing a bunch of students to run the Academy is ridiculous. All this talk about a majority of them leaving the school amounts to nothing. Let them leave if they want to. If all left we could dose the school and save money.”

Although seventy-five of the ninety women enrolled at the school reportedly signed the women’s petition, an Eve­ning Bulletin‘s editorial charac­terized Eakins’ dismissal as a ladies’ revolt in defense of their challenged sensibilities. A moderate voice among the directors held a different view.

The whole thing, in my opin­ion, is rather a tempest in a tea­pot. Eakins is an excellent teacher. … He loves art for art’s sake. But you know artists never agree among themselves. He had a number of enemies who made trouble for him ….

That Ea.kins did, indeed, have enemies is evident in a letter to the directors in re­sponse to publication of this opinion. “In the absence of any official statement,” on Eakins’ resignation, the letter read, “rumors have been spread .. . resulting in the gen­eral belief that he has suffered without cause. This is unjust to those who have brought Mr. Eakins’ offences to the notice of your Board …” The letter concluded with a call for a statement that Eakins’ dis­missal had been “due to the abuse of his authority and not the malice of his personal or professional enemies.” It was signed by five of Ea.kins’ assist­ants, including Thomas Anshutz, who replaced him as professor. The board made no further public statements on the matter.

The effect of his scandal­-tainted resignation devastated Eakins. The questioning of his methods was nothing new to him, but the attendant rumors – none of them speci­fied publicly, let alone substantiated – had dragged his moral reputation through the mires of a Victorian city. And now that city, which had never liked him, would bury him deeper than ever in ne­glect. Some forty of his more stalwart students did defect from the Academy to continue under his instruction, and he continued to lecture in New York. But for a year he painted virtually nothing, and for ten years thereafter, his critical reputation, never more than mixed, was blighted. He was overlooked for significant shows, passed over for com­missions, neglected by his native city. A story persists that John Singer Sargent, the fabulously successful painter and cosmopolite, was asked, when he came to Philadelphia in 1903, who among the city’s luminaries he would like to meet. “There’s Eakins, for instance,” Sargent offered. “And who is Eakins?” his hostess is said to have replied.

By the turn of the century, Thomas Eakins’ reputation had begun to undergo a mea­sured rehabilitation. Nation­ally he was beginning, albeit slowly, to garner respect as a major painter, and the Acad­emy, under new direction, made tentative gestures of reconciliation. But the hurt was still deep. In 1894, he had written a caustic analysis of his career and accomplishments.

I taught in the Academy from the opening of the schools until I was turned out, a period much longer than I should have permit­ted myself to remain there.

My honors are misunderstand­ing, persecution and neglect, enhanced because unsought.

In 1904, he was awarded the Academy’s Temple Gold Medal, which by that time had been presented to several of his lesser contemporaries. He arrived for the presentation ceremony – presided over by Edward H. Coates, who had requested his resignation six­teen years earlier and was now the Academy’s president – in bicycle clothes. “You’ve got a heap of impudence to give me a medal,” he supposedly told Coates, and then he pedaled over to the United States Mint and cashed the medal in for seventy-three dollars.

“The only thing unforgiveable in Philadelphia,” a writer for Harper’s Magazine observed in 1916, “is to be new, to be different from what has been.” When the possibility of a me­morial exhibition was raised in 1917, several months after Eakins’ death, John Frederick Lewis, Academy president, at first allowed that the Academy might host it. He had no doubt, he said, referring to Susan Eakins, “that the poor woman needed money.” Once apprised that the widow was no charity case, he withdrew the offer and a memorial show was arranged instead at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Helen Henderson, a Philadel­phia newspaper critic, blasted her fellow citizens in a review of the New York show. “This is the Philadelphian,” she wrote, “that Philadelphians have never thought it worthwhile to honor.” Under relentless prod­ding from Henderson and others, the Academy finally agreed to accept the exhibit after its New York run.

As a young student, Eakins had once written his sister Fanny from Paris, describing to her a painting by his master, Gerome, that had particularly impressed him. It was a depic­tion of the poet Dante, walking away from the city of Florence after his expulsion. As he passes through a group of children playing in a meadow, the poet’s face frightens them. “A strange man passes down the path amongst them,” Eakins wrote.

Everything has become quiet as the landscape. You feel it right away. The music stopped …. He must look queer to the little chil­dren. They have not seen many such men as Dante …. Way off in the distance are a pair of lovers …. By the time they come along the children will be at play again … some will laugh again …. Some will forget the queer man that came along.


For Further Reading

Burt, Nathaniel. The Perennial Philadelphians. Boston: Little, Brown, 1963.

Goodrich, Lloyd. Thomas Eakins. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982.

Hendricks, Gordon. The Life and Work of Thomas Eakins. New York: Grossman, 1974.

Johns, Elizabeth. Thomas Eakins, The Heroism of Mod­ern Life. Princeton, N.J.: Prince­ton University Press, 1983.

McHenry, Margaret. Thomas Eakins who painted. Oreland, Pa.: Privately Printed, 1946.

Rosenzweig, Phyllis. The Thomas Eakins Collection of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1977.

Sartain, John. The Reminis­cences of a Very Old Man. New York: D. Appleton, 1899.

Schendler, Sylvan. Eakins. Bos­ton: Little, Brown, 1967.

Siegl, Theodore. The Thomas Eakins Collection. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1978.

Weigley, R.F., ed. Philadelphia: A 300-year History. New York: W.W. Norton, 1982.


David Pacchioli, Pine Grove Mills, is enrolled in the M.F.A. program in English at the Penn­sylvania State University, and a staff writer for Research/Penn State, a quarterly magazine exploring the institution’s wide­-ranging research activities. He is currently working on a biographi­cal portrait of another Philadel­phian, astronomer, clockmaker and patriot David Rittenhouse (1732-1796).