glbtq: an encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender & queer culture
home
arts
literature
social sciences
special features
discussion
about glbtq
   search

 
   Encyclopedia
   Discussion
 
 

   member name
  
   password
  
 
   
   Forgot Your Password?  
   
Not a Member Yet?  
   
JOIN TODAY. IT'S FREE!

 
  Advertising Opportunities
  Permissions & Licensing
  Terms of Service
  Privacy Policy
  Copyright

 

 

 

 

 
arts

Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

Subjects:  A-B  C-E  F-L  M-Z

     
Eakins, Thomas (1844-1916)  

Although his personal sexual preference is an ongoing matter of discussion, painter and teacher Thomas Eakins is solidly aligned in the history of art with a sensibility. Throughout his career Eakins sought to evoke a realistic classicism in his depictions and thus produced works that celebrated ideals of form, particularly the male figure.

Born on July 25, 1844 and educated in Philadelphia, Eakins attended the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris from 1866 until 1870. It was there that the artist broadened his worldview and was introduced to photographic académies, or academic nude studies. He, in turn, introduced the genre to Philadelphia when he began teaching in 1873 at his alma mater, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

Sponsor Message.

Primarily a painter, Eakins soon also became an active maker of photographic nude studies to use as drawing aids in the classroom, a radically open policy that engendered loyalty from his students but harsh criticism from his academy colleagues.

In 1884 Eakins married Susan Macdowell (1851-1938), a musican and painter who would become his frequent model and photographer.

Nearly forty percent of Eakins's photographic production was devoted to nude studies and the images are classified into three groups: the "Naked series," consisting of sequences of anatomical poses; the art historical académies; and motion studies after the work of Eadweard Muybridge.

Eakins never intended his photographs to be viewed as works of art; they are thus, perhaps, more intimate than his paintings. Like many artists who used photography as a visual aid, Eakins was uninhibited in the kinds of images he made for this private consumption.

In his paintings and photographs, Eakins approached the body with classical ideals of male form and friendship, "beauty, fitness, and camaraderie," derived from Greek antiquity. During one outdoor excursion to Mill Creek, Pennsylvania, Eakins and his students made numerous photographic studies of one another, which would eventually be used to create one of Eakins's most famous paintings, The Swimming Hole (ca 1883; Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth). Photographic images from this excursion were also translated into his Arcadia series.

The Swimming Hole, which art historians believe to be a recreation of Plato's Academy, is widely cited as a prime example of in American art. In this seminal work, inspired by a section of Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself," Eakins pictures himself submerged in the water observing from the fringes a group of nude young males frolicking in the water.

That his most famous work should be inspired by Whitman is not coincidental, for Eakins's response to Whitman's work and, later, his relationship with the poet, were significant to his art. Eakins met Whitman in 1887; just weeks later he painted his portrait (1888, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts). What Eakins shared with Whitman was an exuberant celebration of the human body and the beauty of nature.

A photographic figure study Eakins made in 1891 of the elderly Whitman relates directly to the painted portrait of 1888. Legend maintains that an infamous "Naked series" group of a nude, elderly man depicts Whitman, but scholars still debate the claim.

According to Eakins, a naked woman "is the most beautiful thing there is--except a naked man." When he was promoted in 1876 to director of instruction at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, he gained control of the school's teaching curriculum and promptly based it on the nude figure, male and female. However, in 1886 Eakins lost his position because he promoted the nude image. More specifically, he was fired for allowing female students to view a nude male model in their life drawing classes.

Embittered by this devastating professional setback, but of independent means, Eakins continued to produce honest, uncompromising work and to teach in various institutions. However, he was not fully appreciated or understood. In his later years, he became somewhat withdrawn and his work failed to achieve its proper recognition during his lifetime.

Carla Williams

     

 
zoom in
Four images by Thomas Eakins (top to bottom):
1) A self-portrait.
2) A photographic study of nude male art students (1883).
3) The Swimming Hole (ca 1883).
4) A portrait of Walt Whitman (1887).

  
 interact  
   
Contact Us
 
Join the Discussion
 
 find 
   
Related Entries
 
More Entries by this contributor
 
A Bibliography on this Topic

 
Citation Information
 
More Entries about The Arts
 
   
spacer
Popular Topics:

Literature

 
Williams, Tennessee
Williams, Tennessee


Literary Theory: Gay, Lesbian, and Queer


The Harlem Renaissance
The Harlem Renaissance


Romantic Friendship: Female
Romantic Friendship: Female


Feminist Literary Theory


American Literature: Gay Male, 1900-1969
American Literature: Gay Male, 1900-1969


Erotica and Pornography
Erotica and Pornography


Mishima, Yukio
Mishima, Yukio


Sadomasochistic Literature


Beat Generation
Beat Generation

 
 


   Related Entries
  
arts >> Overview:  American Art: Gay Male, Nineteenth Century

In nineteenth-century America men who loved other men often suffered from guilt, but artists such as Winslow Homer and Thomas Eakins celebrated male camaraderie and affection, while expatriate John Singer Sargent depicted the dandy, and photographs documented male friendships.

arts >> Overview:  Erotic and Pornographic Art: Gay Male

Given the historic stigma around making, circulating, and possessing overtly homoerotic images, the visual arts have been especially important for providing a socially sanctioned arena for depicting the naked male body and suggesting homoerotic desire.

arts >> Overview:  Photography: Gay Male, Pre-Stonewall

Although sparse in images documenting the gay community, pre-Stonewall gay male photography blurs the boundaries between art, erotica, and social history.

arts >> Overview:  Subjects of the Visual Arts: Bathing Scenes

A common theme in painting since the Renaissance, bathing scenes are often suffused with a distinctly homosexual atmosphere.

arts >> Overview:  Subjects of the Visual Arts: Nude Males

Throughout much of history, the nude male figure was virtually the only subject that could be used to articulate homoerotic desire in publicly displayed works of art, as well as those works of art intended for private "consumption."

arts >> Bazille, Jean-Frédéric

Early French Impressionist Jean-Frédéric Bazille is remembered as an artist of great talent whose full potential was never realized because of his early death.

arts >> Leonard, Michael

Britain's leading photorealist painter, Michael Leonard is accomplished in a number of genres, but his dominant subject is the nude male.

literature >> Whitman, Walt

Celebrating an ideal of manly love in both its spiritual and physical aspects, Walt Whitman has exerted a profound and enduring influence on gay literature.

arts >> Wong, Martin

American artist Martin Wong created innovative, transgressive paintings that celebrated his sexuality and explored multiple ethnic and racial identities.


    Bibliography
   

Berger, Martin A. Man Made: Thomas Eakins and the Construction of Gilded Age Manhood. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.

Bulger, Doreen, and Sarah Cash, eds. Thomas Eakins and the Swimming Picture. Fort Worth: Amon Carter Museum, 1996.

Danly, Susan, and Cheryl Leibold. Eakins and the Photograph: Works by Thomas Eakins and His Circle in the Collection of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Washington and London: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1994.

Saslow, James M. Pictures and Passions: A History of Homosexuality in the Visual Arts. New York: Viking, 1999.

Sewell, Darrel. Thomas Eakins, New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2001.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Williams, Carla  
    Entry Title: Eakins, Thomas  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated September 10, 2006  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/arts/eakins_t.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  
 

 

This Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.

www.glbtq.com is produced by glbtq, Inc., 1130 West Adams Street, Chicago, IL   60607 glbtq™ and its logo are trademarks of glbtq, Inc.
This site and its contents Copyright © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
Your use of this site indicates that you accept its Terms of Service.