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Thomas Eakins - Scenes from Modern Life HOME
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1844 - 1856: Birth
Thomas Cowperthwait Eakins is born on July 25 at 4 Carrollton Square, Philadelphia. He is the first of five children born to Benjamin Eakins and Caroline Cowperthwait Eakins. Benjamin Eakins is a writing master and teacher, an expert in ornamental script who embellished documents and certificates.
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Thomas Eakins: 1844
1857 - 1865: Central High School
The Eakins family moves into their new home at 1729 Mount Vernon Street, in Philadelphia, PA. The Eakins house is part of a new middle-class neighborhood at the edge of the city's urban center, separated from the more stylish addresses of Old Philadelphia by a belt of train yards and industrial buildings. Neighbors include merchants, lawyers, clerks, an organ manufacturer, a book publisher, a dentist, and an undertaker.

At the age of 13, Thomas Eakins enters the Central High School of Philadelphia, known for its advanced curriculum and emphasis on science. The school had been established twenty years earlier as Pennsylvania's first public high school.
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Thomas Eakins: 1857
1866 - 1868: L' Éole des Beaux Arts, Paris
Five years after he graduates from Central High School, Thomas Eakins travels to Paris to study to become an artist. He is at the beginning of a great wave of American artists traveling to Europe. His correspondence home details his adventures in this city of art.

Eakins arrives in Paris a well-trained draftsman, but he has never painted. He continues his education at the renowned Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, the leading art academy of its day. Eakins studies with Jean-Léon Gérôme, one of the youngest teachers at the Ecole.
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Thomas Eakins: 1866
1869: Seville
In his last year in Paris, Eakins studies in the private atelier of famed portrait painter Léon Bonnat. Years before, Bonnat had lived and painted in Spain. For an artist to paint in Spain had become a tradition in the French art world. Bonnat encourages Eakins to go to Spain to see Spanish painting in quantity.
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Thomas Eakins: 1869
1870 - 1874: Return to Philadelphia
On Independence Day, 1870, Thomas Eakins returns from Europe to his native Philadelphia to begin his adult life as an artist. He starts where he left off three and a half years earlier. At home.

Benjamin Eakins creates a studio for Thomas on the fourth floor of their home on 1729 Mount Vernon Street. Thomas Eakins paints the Philadelphia he knows and loves well, indoors and out.
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Thomas Eakins: 1870
1875: Gross Clinic
In responding to a call for entries for paintings to be exhibited at the 1876 Centennial Celebration in Philadelphia, Eakins plans a portrait of America's foremost surgeon, Dr. Samuel D. Gross.

Eakins turns a canvas of rowing studies upside down and covers it with a compositional sketch for a portrait of the famous Philadelphia surgeon.
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Thomas Eakins: 1875
1876 - 1878: Susan Eakins, Centennial Exposition, PAFA
The nation celebrates its 100th birthday with a world's fair, the Centennial Exposition, held in Philadelphia. The exposition covers 450 acres. Each state has its own building and 50 foreign nations send exhibits. Between May and November, almost 10,000,000 people visited the fairgrounds. The most popular attraction proves to be Machinery Hall, with its vast displays of inventions heralding the latest technological achievements from around the country.

The same year, Thomas Eakins meets Susan Macdowell, and begins his teaching career at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts' new building designed by Victorian architect Frank Furness. Furness creates a functional interior that is better suited to the teaching of art than any other building in the country.
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Thomas Eakins: 1876
1879 - 1880: Influence of Photography
With photography, the forces of time and nature could be stopped and examined, providing artists with a new scientific, frame-accurate, record of the world around them.

Eakins was born five years after photography was announced as an invention by Daguerre in France. The first photographs produced in Philadelphia were produced within months of that announcement. Philadelphia became the center of photographic activity in the United States for the remainder of the 19th century.
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Thomas Eakins: 1879
1881: First Use of Camera
Eakins takes his first photographs in 1880 of his family at home and at the beach. In 1881, he buys his first camera, made by the American Optical Company, and turns it to subjects for use in his paintings.

Throughout America, amateur photography is exploding as portable, inexpensive cameras and development processes are made available to the general public.
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Thomas Eakins: 1881
1882: Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
Eakins is named director of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and shapes the institution into the most progressive art school in the world, incorporating photography and dissection into the painting curriculum.
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Thomas Eakins: 1882
1883: Arcadia in Avondale
Avondale is a town 35 miles outside of the center of Philadelphia, far from the bustling city. It is also the home of his sister and of his childhood friend William J. Crowell, and their eleven children. For most of his life, Eakins uses Avondale as a refuge from the stuffiness of Philadelphia.
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Thomas Eakins: 1883
1884 - 1885: Photography in Work
A perennial problem at the Academy was finding people who would pose nude for art classes. More often than not the models were men. Women models who would consent to pose in the nude were often lower class women whose bodies were heavy and often, literally broken by bad diets and labor. Eakins found it very hard to find beautiful young women who would take off their clothes and model for art students. One of the hazards of Eakins' scientific objectivity... was his utter frankness in dealing with the nude. It never bothered Eakins to disrobe in front of a female student in his studio. As Eakins champions the nude in art, and photographs his own naked students, he also clips newspaper stories that report on the outrage provoked by nudity in art throughout the country.
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Thomas Eakins: 1884
1886: Eakins Resigns
During one of his anatomy lectures at the Pennsylvania Academy, Eakins removes a loincloth from a male model, in the presence of women students. After receiving complaints, Edward H. Coates, Chairman of the Committee on Instruction, writes to Eakins, asking him to tender his resignation as Director of the Schools and Professor of Painting.
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Thomas Eakins: 1886
1887 - 1899: North Dakota
Eakins' forced resignation for the Pennsylvania Academy scars him for life. He is deeply hurt not only by his expulsion but also by the charges and insinuations of immorality. Dr. S. Weir Mitchell is a Philadelphia neurologist who pioneers the concept of the "rest cure" to repair people from the wear and tear of modern life. His colleague, Dr. Horatio C. Wood is a physician and professor of nervous diseases at the University of Pennsylvania. Wood offers Eakins a stay at the B-T ranch, located at the edge of the Badlands of the Little Missouri Territory, now the southwestern part of North Dakota. Wood believes that outdoor life among the cowboys will jolt him out of his depression over the Academy scandal.
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Thomas Eakins: 1887
1900 - 1915: A New World
After 1900 Eakins was, in a way, summing up his own life, his own late career, facing his own mortality. I think this coming to terms with the self is Eakins' great triumph. Some people would like to see the later career as rather pessimistic -- the dark palate, these anxious teary faces, this sense of morbidity. On the contrary, I think it's a sense of self-acceptance of, in a way, coming to terms with our vulnerabilities, our weaknesses, what we fail to do and also what we have achieved with reaching a kind of balance. So I don't see them as cynical, I don't see them as depressing; I see them as profoundly poignant, very moving.
JOHN WILMERDING
Art Historian, Princeton University
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Thomas Eakins: 1900
1916: Death
Thomas Eakins died of heart failure shortly before one o'clock in the afternoon of Sunday, June 25, 1916. Eakins had requested that there be no funeral or flowers and that his body be cremated. His ashes were kept in the family house until Susan Eakins' death in 1938, at which time her ashes and his were buried in the family plot not far from the Schuylkill River.
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Thomas Eakins: 1916
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Please Note: This web site contains several black and white archival photographs of nude male and female models, including some photographs of Eakins himself.

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