Portrait: A Life of Thomas Eakins

William S. McFeely, Author . Norton $26.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-393-05065-3

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.)

Reviewed on: 09/04/2006
Release date: 11/01/2006
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 237 pages - 978-0-393-33068-7
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