Thomas Eakins - Scenes from Modern Life HOME
About the Film Timeline Biography Image Gallery World Events For Educators
Back Rowing on the River
Perspective Drawing for the Pair Oared Shell, Thomas Eakins John Biglin in a Single Scull, Thomas Eakins The Biglin Brothers Turning the Stake-Boat, Thomas Eakins
Rowing was an activity that Eakins knew well -- he was rowing on the Schuylkill River long before he went to Paris. His Central High School classmates and family members were all rowers. Throughout America, the years framing the Civil War saw an explosion of the sport.  
The rowing paintings were all backed up with these incredible drawings, drawings that are unlike any sequence of drawings in the history of American art. We can tell from these drawings, that the scull is forty-five feet away, the figures are 56 feet away. You can measure every thing in the painting from these drawings showing how careful, how painstaking his preparations were. These drawings must have taken him hours and I can only assume that he loved making these drawings -- that they were a challenge for him and part of his pleasure in preparing his paintings.

Rowing was also a very modern subject. This was a brand new sport that was just reasonably fashionable, it had only been popular in the last two decades, and it had become something of a fad in Philadelphia.
Curator, Indiana University Art Museum
And the underlying motivation for rowing was that it will get you out of the office. That it was very, very healthy. That it would develop the body. But, also it would encourage your moral fiber to grow and to flourish. So rowers developed a whole literature of self conscious, self-congratulations about this. And Eakins took this up because it was anchored in his own life, because it was anchored in the Philadelphia ambition to be part of this international rowing scene and because rowing itself drew so much on the entire capability of human beings. The body the mind, they were outside. There was a whole coterie of people who rowed together. You didn't have to own your own scull, you could belong to a boat club and therefore it was accessible to everyone. It was by no means a gentleman's sport or anything elitist. So this launched him. ELIZABETH JOHNS, Ph.D.
Art Historian, University of Pennsylvania
All the sciences are done in a simple way; in mathematics, the complicated things are reduced to the simple things. So it is in painting. You reduce the whole thing to simple factors; you establish these and work out from them, pushing them toward one another. This will make strong work. Thomas Eakins
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