Portrait: The Life of Thomas Eakins

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9780393330687: Portrait: The Life of Thomas Eakins

"Provocative.... McFeely sensitively chronicles the maturation of this enigmatic Philadelphian."―Matthew Price, New York Times Book Review

Thomas Eakins painted two worlds in nineteenth-century America: one sure of its values―statesmen, scientists, and philosophers―and one that offered an uncertain vision of the changing times. From the shadow of his mother's depression to his fraught identity as a married man with homosexual inclinations, to his failure to sell his work in his day, Eakins was a man marked equally by passion and melancholy.In this enlightening examination of Eakins's defining artistic moments and key relationships―with wife Susan MacDowell, with subject and friend Walt Whitman, and with several leading scientists of his time―William S. McFeely sheds light on the motivations and desires of a founder of American realism.

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About the Author:

William S. McFeely is Abraham Baldwin Professor of the Humanities, Emeritus, at the University of Georgia. He is the author of Yankee Stepfather: General O. O. Howard and the Freedmen; Grant: A Biography, for which he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and the Parkman Prize; Frederick Douglass, which received the Lincoln Prize; Sapelo’s People: A Long Walk into Freedom; and Proximity to Death.

From Publishers Weekly:

In this insightful book, the author, who won a Pulitzer for Grant: A Biography, focuses on the problematic aspects of the life of American realist painter Thomas Eakins and attempts to show how these are reflected in his works. Eakins (1844–1916) had a fortunate early life, with art studies in Paris and Spain, a sympathetic wife and a promising career at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Nevertheless, he suffered from a sense of failure, bouts of depression and conflicted feelings about his attraction to men. McFeely sees the painting Swimming, in particular, as indicative of Eakins's unfulfilled longings, but also of more than that: the image of the artist and five of his male students swimming in the nude embodies Eakins's Thoreauvian conviction that happiness can be found in freedom from society's constraints, in living at one with nature. Eakins never achieved this freedom, however. In 1886, he was asked to resign from the academy, probably because of his homosexuality and his insistence on using nude models in his life drawing classes, and his life became one of increasing despair. The book's most revealing sections discuss Eakins's portraits, where the sitters' faces exude a sadness that reflects the artist's own emotional state. 16 pages of color illus., 40 b&w illus. (Nov.)
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