Thomas Eakins - Scenes from Modern Life HOME
About the Film Timeline Biography Image Gallery World Events For Educators
Back Letters Home
Letter from Thomas Eakins Letter from Thomas Eakins Letter from Thomas Eakins
He was twenty-two when he came to Paris, so he was an adult, but he'd never been outside of Philadelphia, he never traveled much and so I think he was naïve and confident at the same time and I think we get that in his letters. There's fear, there's trepidation. I certainly think he was home-sick and missed the people at home but he also was a brave person, very courageous, and so I think he dove into the adventure in France with a lot of energy. Eakins wrote home regularly, and we sense his guilt and his concern in his letters because he was always very anxious to explain how he was spending his money and to stress that he was using his time well and that he was working very hard. So we know that he was concerned that he was trying to convince himself that the time was well spent. KATHLEEN A. FOSTER, Ph.D.
Curator, Indiana University Art Museum
My Dear Mother,
I am all safe and sound in Paris. . . How is my father? How long did his chill last? How are all the others? Does little Caddy still remember me? Have you been out on the river? It must be very beautiful now with the red and yellow leaves of the trees. The buildings of Paris are beautiful beyond description. . . Although I expected so much they have far exceeded those expectations. Paris is a city of palaces. To beautify things the sun came out yesterday and all that day and all today there has not been a cloud.
October 6, 1866
Dear Father,
I'm in at last and will commence to study Monday under Gérôme. Full particulars in my next. The mail starts directly. I haven't yet got my first letter from home.
October 26, 1866
My dear Mother,
Having a great desire to write to you and having the time, I will tell you about my room for want of something more interesting. It is as comfortable a one as can be found in Paris as far as I know. The house is across the way from the old palace of Luxembourg, and by going out into the entry, I can look down into the garden. Besides it is close to my school, not more than half a mile, and on the same side of the river. . . . My room is not as large as my bed chamber at home, but it is large enough and has a big window in it, which gives plenty of light. The walls are paper, and the ceiling is nicely whitewashed. The floor is of stone or rather a sort of brick painted red . I have a little darning to do, and I don't think I've done it badly. I found no great difficulty in sewing buttons on. It was necessary to take a peep at the other buttons and remember the old civil engineering rule I learned at school that to gain stability you must widen the base and distribute evenly the strain.
November 8, 1866
My dear Father,
I will never forget the first day that Gerome criticized my work. His criticism seemed pretty rough, but after a moment's consideration, I was glad. I bought Gerome's photograph that very night. Gerome is a young man as you can see by his photograph that I have sent, not over 40. He has a beautiful eye and a splendid head. He dresses remarkably plain. I am delighted with Gerome. He will look carefully and a long time at the model and then at the drawing and then he will point out every fault. He treats all alike good and bad. What he wants to see is progress. Nothing escapes his attention. Often he draws for us. The oftener I see him the more I like him.
November 16, 1866
My dear Emily,
You should hear me tell the Frenchmen about Philadelphia. I feel 6 ft. and 6 inches high whenever I only say I am an American; but seriously speaking Emily Philadelphia is certainly a city to be proud of, and has advantages for happiness only to be fully appreciated after leaving it. I am very comfortable here, and like Paris much more than I expected to when I left home. Many young men after living here a short time do not like America. I am sure they have not known as I have the many reasonable enjoyments to be had there, the skating, the boating on our river, the beautiful walks in every direction... I can't begin to tell you how anxious I am to hear from home... I hope you have been boating. Our Schuylkill is so beautiful at this season. I hope Poppy goes out regularly with Max. I should be sorry if he should lose his taste for rowing. Has the opera come to Philadelphia yet? It is warm and the sun is shining very bright and it has not rained near so much this month as it did last. I wish we could have a private telegraph to 1729 Mt. Vernon.
November 16, 1866
Dear Father,
There was a dispute in the studio between two of the fellows as to which was the strongest. It was decided they should wrestle as soon as the model rested. So they stripped themselves and fought nearly an hour, and when they were down, they were as dirty as sweeps and bloody. Since then there has been wrestling most every day and we have had three pairs all stripped at once, and we see some anatomy.
November 26, 1866
Dear Father,
. . . I do not think I have overrated the advantages of the Imperial School. From 8 to 1 we have the living model. We have a palace to work in. We have casts from all the good antique and many modern statues. Twice a week our work is corrected by the best professors in the world.
December 23, 1866
Dear Father,
Gerome gives me the benefit of his criticisms twice a week. Last time he made no change in my work, said it was not bad, had some middling good parts in it, but was a little barbarous yet. . . Only once he told me I was going backwards and that time I had made a poetical sort of an outline. The biggest compliment he ever paid me was to say that he saw a feeling for bigness in my modeling and sometimes he says, "there now you are on the right track, now push."
March 12, 1866
Dear Father,
One terrible anxiety is off my mind. I will never have to give up painting, for even now I could paint heads good enough to make a living anywhere in America, I hope not to be a drag on you a great while longer.
Dear Father,
I feel now that my school days are at last over and sooner than I dared hope, what I have come to France for is accomplished. I am as strong as any of Gerome's pupils, and I have nothing now to gain by remaining. My attention to the living model even when I was doing my worst work has benefited me and improved my standard of beauty. . . What I have learned I could not have learned at home, for beginning Paris is the best place.
About the Film | Timeline | Biography | Image Gallery | World Events | For Educators | Credits

Please Note: This web site contains several black and white archival photographs of nude male and female models, including some photographs of Eakins himself.

© 2002 WHYY, Incorporated. All Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy