Editor's note: The following essay, excerpted without illustrations from the exhibition catalogue In This Academy: The Pennsylvanian Academy of the Fine Arts 1805 - 1976, is reprinted July 31, 2008 in Resource Library with permission of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. If you have questions or comments regarding the text, or wish to obtain a copy of the exhibition catalogue from which it is excerpted, please contact the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, directly through either this phone number or web address:
Thomas Eakins and The Academy
By Louise Lippincott
Thomas Eakins' fame as a teacher at the Pennsylvania Academy rests on the circumstances of his resignation from the school's faculty in 1886. The public furor over his removal of the loincloth from a model in the women's life class made a small event into a controversial one. As a result, Eakins has been viewed as a martyr to Philadelphia conservatism rather than as a moderately successful teacher.
When Eakins's contributions to the Academy are considered, there seems to have been some justification for the directors' request for his resignation. By the time that Eakins joined the faculty in 1876, an academic curriculum based on the study of the nude and on the practice of painting from life had already been established; it included a modeling class and a small anatomy department. Eakins's contributions to the Academy curriculum consisted of modifying and expanding the courses already extant. Basically, Eakins taught a traditional academic curriculum distorted by his primary emphasis on painting, drawing, and modeling the nude human figure at the expense of teaching composition and design. While his highly specialized interest in figure construction contributed to his uniqueness as an artist and theoretician, it narrowed the scope of his teaching until it was no longer appropriate for the majority of his students. Eakins's insistence on a specific course of study limited the flexibility of the curriculum and alienated many pupils. These problems were compounded by his deliberate disregard of conventional Victorian moral standards and by his uncompromising advocacy of intensive professional training for women.
Nevertheless, throughout his career at the Academy, Eakins endeavored to provide his students with the best art education possible. His conception of an ideal art education, opposed in many ways to the academic training he had received, was as unique and personal as his painting and as widely respected and misunderstood.
Eakins's association with the Pennsylvania Academy began early. He had displayed an unusual talent for drawing while still in grade school. He may have attended the Academy annual exhibitions, and he enrolled in the Academy's antique class after his graduation from Central High School in 1861.
The Academy's school had been organized in 1856 to accommodate the needs of artists and art students in Philadelphia. While the antique class was designed to teach beginning students how to draw, the major purpose of the school was to provide facilities for the study of the live model. The life class was organized with the needs of the professional artist, rather than of the young art student, in mind. Those who wished to join the life class had to be over twenty-one years of age, and they had to submit a cast drawing to an artists' committee for approval. Since there was no professor and the classes met only three times a week, supplemented by occasional lectures, they by no means provided, or were intended to provide, a complete education for a young student.
Eakins studied at the Academy for four years, but he found its curriculum frustratingly inadequate. Already a skilled draughtsman, he considered the emphasis on drawing from the antique dull and unrewarding. In 1864 he supplemented his studies in the antique class by attending lectures and anatomy classes at Jefferson Medical College. He was eventually admitted to the Academy life class, but he continued to study anatomy at Jefferson as well. He also began to experiment with oil paints with his friend Charles Fussell, a member of the Academy life class in 1865. Fussell's portrait of the young Eakins (cat. no. 231), painted in 1865 or 1866, testifies to the inadequacy of his training, for his brushwork is labored and he painted Eakins's body with the simplified planes and monochromatic tones of a piece of antique sculpture. Eakins's own difficulties with painting probably convinced him that he could not receive a complete art education in Philadelphia. In the fall of 1866 he left for Paris to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.
Eakins was admitted to the Ecole that year with the help of John Sartain, who knew a number of influential French academicians. Eakins elected to study with Jean-Leon Gerome, one of the youngest teachers at the Ecole, perhaps because he had admired examples of Gerome's work shown at Pennsylvania Academy annual exhibitions. In Gerome's atelier, Eakins was introduced to a livelier and more demanding attitude toward art education than that which he had known in Philadelphia. Harry Niemeyer, who attended the atelier with Eakins in 1867, later recalled:
The atelier was a far cry from the dull, gentlemanly Academy in Philadelphia, and its atmosphere had a profound effect upon Eakins, shaping his concept of the ideal relationship between teacher and student. Later, like Gerome, Eakins would dominate his students and would allow them little opportunity to develop their individual talents.
Eakins quickly became a part of the atelier. He submitted good naturedly to his introductory hazing and countered with some wild exploits of his own. He learned the French language and manners, but unlike his Pennsylvania Academy classmate Mary Cassatt, who was also studying with Gerome in Paris, Eakins always planned to return to Philadelphia. He stored up his experiences for his friends back home. He sent reports on Parisian fashions to his mother and sisters and descriptions of Gerome and the Ecole to his father and his friends William Sartain and Charles Fussell; to Emily Sartain, also an artist, he sent intimate letters in Italian. All of his correspondence reflects his eagerness to learn, despite draughty rooms, erratic classes, and the diversions of Paris.
Under Gerome, Eakins found the same academic insistence on the study of the antique cast which he had endured in Philadelphia. But in Paris he was able to skip the antique classes and visit the Louvre or practice painting instead. In the spring of 1867 Gerome apparently passed him into the painting class, and there Eakins found he had much to learn. Color was his greatest difficulty, as Gerome paid little attention to it either in his own work or in his teaching. On the whole, Eakins got along well with Gerome, although he occasionally lost his temper when his teacher autocratically repainted his studies. Eakins's debt to his master is apparent in much of his early work, especially his genre painting. Many of the characteristics of Gerome's The Guardian (cat. no. 233) -- its small size, the carefully researched costume and setting, and its detailed finish -- are evident in Eakins's historical scenes from the 1870s and 1880s. Gerome may also have introduced Eakins to the uses of photographs for composing pictures. Gerome had purchased photographs for such purposes in 1861, and in 1867 he took photographic equipment along on a trip to the Near East.
Eakins studied with Gerome for almost three years, developing his painting skills as well as his confidence. In 1869 he was sure enough of himself to plan a career "painting faces," and he entered the independent atelier of Leon Bonnat to learn more about that specialized and profitable field. Departing from traditional American academic practice, which did not include modeling classes for painters, Eakins also studied with the sculptor Augustin Dumont. At Dumont's he worked in clay or wax from the live model, producing bas-reliefs and three-dimensional studies. Eakins may have studied at Bonnat's and Dumont's at the suggestion of Gerome. From the continuing interest Gerome evinced in his pupil's work, it is apparent that the French master felt that he had an outstanding student. Eakins absorbed everything that his teachers offered and eagerly searched for more.
In the winter of 1869 Eakins left Paris for Spain. Accompanied by William Sartain, he divided his time between sketching trips in the Spanish countryside and visiting the Prado museum. At the Prado he discovered the work of Velazquez -- "big painting" as he called it. Eakins learned much from Velazquez's use of light, color, and glazes, but the Spaniard's penetrating studies of mood and character impressed him most. It was this aspect of Velazquez's work which Eakins would emulate in his later portraits.
Exposure to the work of Velazquez, so different from that of Gerome, seems to have convinced Eakins that he was still not ready for a career. Discouraged with his first major painting, Street Singers in Seville (Collection of Mrs. John Randolph Garrett), he returned home in the summer of 1870 and applied himself to painting portraits of his sisters and close family friends. The death of Eakins's mother in 1872 coincided with the end of this period of solitary study. That year he resumed his anatomical work at Jefferson Medical College, and he painted outdoor scenes of the oarsmen on the Schuylkill River. These early paintings reveal his command of perspective, anatomy, and the construction of the human figure. Although he continued to admire Gerome, Eakins began to develop his own kind of painting, which, unlike Gerome's, relied on observation of nature rather than on anecdotal content for its impact.
Eakins had exhibited his work publicly for the first time in 1871, and its penetrating realism was soon noticed in Philadelphia. He was invited to teach the life class at the Philadelphia Sketch Club, and he also received a few portrait commissions. In 1875 the students of Jefferson Medical College asked him to paint a portrait of Dr. Samuel Gross, and he embarked on the most ambitious and most successful effort of his long career. The painting, showing Dr. Gross lecturing to his students during an operation on a young man's leg, was finished in time for exhibition at the Centennial Exposition. The hanging committee sequestered it in the Medical Department, where it nevertheless attracted a great deal of attention, as much for its subject matter as for its qualities as a painting.
During the years that Eakins was in Europe and teaching at the Sketch Club, the Pennsylvania Academy began to develop a professional art school based on the schools of contemporary European academies. Most of the important new policies were suggested in student petitions to the Board of Directors. In response to one such petition, Christian Schussele was hired in 1868 to teach drawing and painting to the students in the antique and life classes. Further petitions resulted in the following developments: students were allowed to paint as well as to draw from the live model; more life classes were added to the curriculum; these life classes met during the day as well as in the evening; and women students received much more encouragement than they had in the past. These improvements, particularly the new life classes, were instrumental in changing the Academy school from a facility to augment the training of professional artists to a modern institution oriented to the needs of students. They also had a beneficial effect on the school's enrollment, which rose steadily. The cost of running the school increased as well. Before 1865 the school's annual budget had never exceeded one hundred dollars, but from 1868 to 1870 it was six times as great.
In part because of the overcrowded school studios in the building at Tenth and Chestnut streets, the Board of Directors, in 1870, decided to erect the present building on the corner of Broad and Cherry streets. An examination of the design of the school floor of the new building shows how carefully the building committee considered the needs of the Academy school and planned for its growth and development. The school studios were designed, principally by John Sartain, to have ample light for the painting classes. The life class studios were large and provisions were made for models' dressing rooms. A modelng room was included, as was an auditorium for lectures.
By the time the building was ready for use in 1876, the school was well on its way to professionalization under the liberal guidance of John Sartain and Fairman Rogers of the Committee on Instruction. The new classes already established under Schussele, especially painting by daylight, were accommodated in the new building and plans for further expansion of the curriculum and faculty had been made. These plans called for a professor of drawing and painting, an instructor for the evening life classes, a professor of anatomy, and a lecturer on perspective; a professor of sculpture was to be hired should the need arise. The student body now consisted primarily of young art students expecting to receive a complete art education at the Academy; a number of them were women, who found that their professional ambitions were treated seriously. The administration of the school and most of the teaching were the responsibility of the professor of drawing and painting, Christian Schussele. In 1876 Schussele was asked to appoint an assistant to teach the evening classes, and he selected his friend Thomas Eakins, who had volunteered for the job.
Eakins's offer may have resulted from affection for his old school or from the realization that many of his Sketch Club students planned to attend the new school. His job required little time, only three evenings a week, but he threw himself into it with enthusiasm. Soon after he began teaching, he wrote to the board, requesting that respectable females, rather than prostitutes, be hired as models for the life classes. Eakins claimed that the Academy's regular models were "coarse, flabby, ill formed & unfit in every way for the requirements of a school" and that there was not a "sufficient change of models for the successful study of form." The suggestion did not seem reasonable to the directors, who felt that prostitutes were acceptable for the disreputable work of modeling for artists and that genteel women should pose only for portraits. Consequently, the request, which also naively proposed that John Sartain advertise for respectable women in the newspapers, was turned down.
Eakins was more successful in the anatomy department. In January 1877 he offered to serve the professor of anatomy, Dr. W. W. Keen, as his prosector, the assistant who prepared the cadaver for the doctor's weekly lectures. Keen accepted Eakins's offer and within three months Eakins was not only preparing the corpses but was also instructing the advanced life class students in dissection.
In May 1877 the directors asked Christian Schussele, for reasons unknown, to take over the life classes which Eakins had been teaching. Eakins left the Academy that month and soon began teaching at the Philadelphia Art Union, where he remained until January 1878. While Eakins was away, Christian Schussele commended the work he had done in the anatomy department and suggested that dissection become a permanent part of the Academy's curriculum. Schussele also continued to urge the expansion of the life school by the addition of more classes.
In the fall of 1877 Eakins returned to the Academy to work for Dr. Keen as an unpaid assistant. He resumed his duties as prosector and continued to teach dissection to the life class students. The dissecting class was so well attended that Fairman Rogers began to look for a larger room; in December 1877 he ordered the pump room to be fitted up for instruction. In January the directors finally recognized Eakins's contributions to the class and thanked him for his voluntary services. They authorized Dr. Keen to appoint a chief demonstrator of anatomy whose job would be to instruct the life class students. Keen gave the job to Eakins.
Under Eakins's supervision, the dissecting class expanded to include most of the life class students, including the women. As Eakins remarked in 1879, "We had one student who abstained a year ago, but this year finding his fellows are getting along faster than himself, he changed his mind and is now dissecting diligently." Later, horses, dogs, cats, and a lion as well as humans were studied in the dissecting class. Plaster casts were made from dissected cadavers and hung in the life class studios. The anatomy department was soon as well organized and as rigorous as that of a medical school.
Eakins's changes at the Academy would probably have been restricted to the anatomy department had not Christian Schussele been suffering from palsy. In the fall of 1878 it became clear that Schussele was too ill to teach all of the life classes, and Eakins was asked to assist him. Eakins resumed teaching the men's evening life class and agreed to oversee the modeling class, which had run into difficulties in 1878. These new responsibilities offered Eakins more opportunities for modifying the curriculum.
Eakins almost immediately suggested another change in the life class policies. This time he requested admission for a student who had not, and who could not, produce the cast drawing required for promotion to the life class. "Being of the opinion ... that the study of the living model should not be based on the study of the antique, or at least should not be required to be based thereon," Eakins took the problem to the Board of Directors, who promptly turned down the request. This seems to have convinced him that the directors would not tolerate additional alterations in a class which they and the Committee on Instruction already deemed sufficiently advanced. Because he was not permitted to modify the life classes or to abolish the antique classes, Eakins was forced to apply his ideas to other parts of the curriculum.
The modeling class was the first class which Eakins changed to suit his own concepts of an ideal art education. Between 1876 and 1878 the Academy sculpture students had worked in clay from the antique, under the instruction of Joseph Bailly. In 1878 the instruction committee could not afford to rehire Bailly, and the poorly attended class would have been discontinued if Eakins had not volunteered to supervise it. Because he disliked antique study, Eakins instituted the practice of modeling from life. In this way he hoped to teach his painting students as well as the sculpture students about the problems of three-dimensional form. The students worked from human models and later from animal models, particularly the horse. The radicalism of the new class drew criticism from conservative local artists, but these complaints were silenced by Fairman Rogers's defense of the importance of the study of the live model.
The year 1879 was an important one for the Academy school. The different policies of its two professors, Schussele and Eakins, were temporarily balanced, offering the students alternative courses of study. The school's growing reputation and the unusual character of its assistant professor of drawing and painting, Thomas Eakins, even brought a reporter down from New York to visit the classes and to interview him. William Brownell's article, which was published in 1879 in Scribner's compared the Academy school with that of the National Academy of Design in New York. Brownell called Eakins a' "radical," and, compared to the teachers at the National Academy, he certainly was. Brownell also discussed Eakins's ideas at length but failed to credit Schussele and the Academy directors for the design of the school's basic curriculum.
In spite of the attention Eakins was receiving, Schussele was still an important figure in the Academy school. Although he seems to have been a blandly traditional teacher, that very quality made him the ideal sponsor of new developments before an equally conservative board. His reputation as a traditionalist lent respectability to some of the school's more unusual programs. He had begun the painting classes which his students requested, he had championed Eakins's dissecting class, and he had been the first to pay serious attention to women students. Above all, he was willing to accept and encourage new methods in the teaching at the school.
Christian Schussele's death in October 1879 ended the harmony which he had created among students, faculty, and board. Unlike Schussele, Thomas Eakins, who was appointed the next professor of drawing and painting, was not a very tolerant teacher, and he did not care much for respectability. He could not easily win the confidence of the Board of Directors, which was necessary if he was to continue to modify the school's curriculum. Fortunately, he found a supporter in the chairman of the Committee on Instruction, the influential Fairman Rogers. With the help of Rogers, Eakins continued to impose his ideas on art education on the school.
The antique classes suffered almost immediately. Soon after his appointment, it became apparent that Eakins was unable to judge student antique drawings because he was totally unfamiliar with the work. Consequently, he was permitted to delegate the antique class responsibilities to his student Thomas Anshutz, and thereafter he visited these classes only to urge students to begin painting.
However, Eakins continued to develop those aspects of the curriculum which interested him. The staff of the anatomy department was increased to eight, then to eleven members in 1880. Two of the new demonstrators were women, since Eakins insisted that women participate in all areas of study. He made it clear that he was teaching professional artists, not "china painters." Portraiture and perspective, minor parts of the curriculum in Schussele's time, were given important places in the schedule during Eakins's first year in charge. A portrait class had been taught informally since the 1860s, but Eakins and Rogers made arrangements for the class to meet regularly. That year Eakins also gave the first lectures on perspective that had been given at the Academy since 1876.
To become formally part of the school's curriculum, Eakins's innovations had to be approved by the Board of Directors, and here the assistance of Fairman Rogers was crucial for success. His influence in the Academy boardroom won approval for most of Eakins's ideas. However, although Rogers could often persuade the directors to do what he and Eakins wanted, he was powerless to prevent them from instituting policies which he and Eakins disliked. This was especially true when large sums of money were involved. For example, in 1878, 1879, and 1881 the board established endowed prizes for student work, despite the objections of Eakins and Rogers, who felt that prizes encouraged excessive competition among students and distracted them from more serious work. Once the prizes were established, however, Eakins did use them to reward promising students. Thus, the first Mary Smith Prize was awarded to Susan Macdowell in 1879 for her Portrait of a Gentleman and Dog (cat. no. 218), painted very much in Eakins's style. Subsequently, the prize was repeatedly awarded to women with the professional ambitions which Eakins admired; the winners included Emily Sartain and Cecilia Beaux.
Not only did Eakins modify courses to suit his ideas, he also introduced new techniques which were not used in other American academies. Photography was probably the most radical technique he suggested to his students. Schussele had previously bought photographs of paintings by old masters to use as teaching' aids, but Eakins exhibited at the Academy photographs of human figures and animals and encouraged his students to use them as an aid to painting. Eakins was using photographs for his compositions by 1879, and he acquired his own camera a year later. The board and the conservative members of the exhibitions committee, however, did not encourage his interest in the new medium. In 1880 the exhibitions committee resolved that drawings from photographs would not be accepted for the annual exhibition. Furthermore, when Eakins showed Eadweard Muybridge's photographs of a galloping horse at the Academy later that year in an informal exhibition, the directors were displeased.
Because of the directors' disapproval of the medium, photography became an extracurricular study for Eakins's students, as dissection had been for Eakins fifteen years earlier. His student Susan Macdowell was apparently a capable photographer before 1879. Her sister Elizabeth, also an Academy student, used Eakins's photograph of his sister Caroline for her composition Daydreams (cat. no. 237), exhibited at the Academy in 1882. Many students posed for Eakins's photographs and almost all of them used a camera at some point in their careers. Henry O. Tanner considered becoming a portrait photographer when he could not earn a living from painting; Thomas Anshutz used photographs for Ironworkers: Noontime (Collection of John D. Rockefeller, Jr.) ; and Charles Fussell, who usually painted in a mid-century style, combined exposures of a landscape and a portrait to create a self-portrait (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts) . Thus, photography was an integral part of the students' education although it was never established in the curriculum.
By 1882 Eakins had modified the curriculum as much as the directors would allow, and the school was doing extremely well. Classes were meeting from seven in the morning until nine o'clock at night, and the enrollment had climbed to over two hundred students. The Committee on Instruction was forced to limit the size of the men's life class and to forbid students to study at the Academy for more than four years. The directors were pleased with the success but worried by the expenditures, which created a serious deficit. At one point, in 1879, they had seriously considered closing the school in order to save money.
Therefore, when John G. Johnson wrote the Committee on Instruction suggesting that the Academy charge admission like any other art school,  the idea was readily accepted. The plan which Fairman Rogers drew up included not only a proposed tuition charge but also an outline for the reorganization of the school's faculty and curriculum. Eakins contributed to the plan a list of salaries that other art teachers in Philadelphia and New York were receiving and suggested that two of the life classes be extended into the summer; he also made a statement to the effect that charging tuition must not alter the professional aims of the school. Rogers presented the plan to the board in February 1882, and it was approved. With the reorganization, Rogers finally completed the task of making the Academy a professional art school.
Rogers's plan projected an annual profit of about one thousand dollars, and this quickly became a reality. In the 1884 annual report, the Committee on Instruction announced that "from a heavy tax upon the resources of the Academy [the school] has become largely self supporting ... its thorough success is a very gratifying announcement to make. After the first profitable year -- 1882-83 -- the directors were determined to maintain the status quo. They would view future alterations suspiciously as deviations from a successful formula, especially after Fairman Rogers, who had supported Eakins's policies for four years, resigned from the Academy board in 1883.
Like his teaching, Eakins's painting from 1876 to 1886 was characterized by modifications of well-established academic formulas. Often the innovations in the paintings anticipated or reflected changes he attempted to make in the Academy's curriculum. For example, William Rush Carving His Allegorical Statue of the Schuylkill River (1876; Philadelphia Museum of Art), showing a Philadelphia debutant posing for the sculptor, coincided with Eakins's request for respectable models for the life classes. Moreover, Eakins's preparations for The Fairman Rogers Four-in-Hand (cat. no. 221) included a number of the techniques he was advocating at the Academy. Eakins based the drawing of the horses upon the recently published Muybridge photographs taken in California, and he made three-dimensional clay models of the horses and rough oil portraits from life of the passengers in the coach. He also spent hours watching the coach and horses in motion, recording his observations in oil sketches. In his final representation of the turnout, the realistic depiction of the horses' gaits is somewhat inconsistent with the illusionistic spin of the coach wheels. But, as the earliest known photographically accurate depiction of animal motion, it represented a breakthrough in nineteenth-century art.
Between 1881 and 1883 Eakins's interest in photography led him to execute several watercolors and oils based on photographs. Some, like Drawing the Seine (Philadelphia Museum of Art), were direct copies from single photographs, while others combined several in one composition. In Mending the Net (cat. no. 223), for example, the realistic poses of the figures suggest that they, like the figures of the geese in the foreground, were derived from photographs. These compositions of figures in landscapes led to another group of works, the Arcadian paintings, for which Eakins utilized photographs as well as studies of the nude model. These paintings also showed figures in landscapes, but the figures are nude or classically draped. The last composition in this series, The Swimming Hole (cat. no. 226), was one of the most important paintings of Eakins's Academy years.
For The Swimming Hole Eakins drew upon a number of the visual sources he had introduced at the Academy -- photographs, life class studies, and the Muybridge work (cat. no. 242) -- to produce a work which summarizes the ideals of his teaching there. Roth in this painting and in his classes he was using such techniques as aids in the study of the construction of the human figure, which was the focus of his ideal art education. By emphasizing the study of the nude, Eakins felt that he was emulating the ancient Greek sculptors, who did not have antiques to imitate. Phidias, he thought, must have worked from nature. The Swimming Hole was to Eakins a modern equivalent of the achievements of the classical sculptors. At the Academy, Eakins wanted to teach his students his methods of observation, so that they too could emulate the classical ideals which he embodied in this painting.
After 1880, with his curriculum firmly established, Eakins spent less time at the school and more on his own projects, causing his students to accuse him of neglect. He was teaching twice a week at the Brooklyn Art Guild, and he turned his less interesting classes over to assistants. In 1884 and 1885 he served on the advisory committee supervising Eadweard Muybridge's experimental photographs of human and animal locomotion. At the same time, independently of Muybridge, he made his own photographic motion studies, using his students as models. He stopped teaching dissection, delegating that responsibility to the student demonstrators of anatomy. His chief demonstrators included James Kelly in 1881, Thomas Anshutz in 1882, and J. Laurie Wallace in 1883. In 1885 Thomas Anshutz was appointed assistant professor of drawing and painting, finally relieving Eakins of all responsibility for the drawing and antique classes. Anshutz soon became an influential member of the Committee on Instruction.
Eakins's neglect of his students might have been tolerated in chaotic ateliers like Gerome's, but, unlike their French counterparts, the Academy students were paying tuition and were justifiably disappointed with Eakins's teaching. The dissatisfaction caused by his absences was matched by unhappiness with his curriculum. Schussele's flexibility, which had permitted Eakins's innovations in 1877 and 1878, was replaced by Eakins's insistence on a specific, almost rigid, course of study. He expected his pupils to do much more than he had been expected to accomplish as an Academy student. They had none of the free time which had permitted their predecessors in the 1860s and 1870s to study with other painters or to experiment on their own. In this respect Eakins's program diverged from French and American academic models, both of which allowed for independent work. Eakins was trying to impart to his students in a few years time the knowledge he had gained from almost eight years of study. His teaching at the Academy, intense and narrowly directed, was aimed at students with his kind of intellect, his interests, and his strengths. It was not effective for the students who did not share his interests, nor did it offer them opportunities for the development of their own talents and ideas. This was a serious fault in Eakins's teaching.
The directors would probably have ignored the complaints about the curriculum if the school had continued to do well financially. However, the enrollment of the paying students began to drop in 1884. In the school year 1882-83, the first year that tuition was charged, the student body numbered 203. In 1883-84 the number dropped to 174. The next year the students numbered 224, but the figure was inflated by the admission of "free" students. In 1885-86 the number had fallen to 172, and the Academy lost over six thousand dollars that year on the operation of the school.
Another problem which the directors were unable to ignore was the public and private criticism directed at Eakins's conduct in the women's life class. This was an extremely delicate matter, for women constituted almost fifty percent of the tuition-paying student body, and the directors feared they might leave the Academy if their respectability was threatened by attendance at a life class. On the other hand, the professionalism of the women's classes was one of the school's strong points, and too much consideration of feminine sensibilities would destroy that reputation. The directors were primarily concerned with the financial problem and Eakins, of course, with the latter. In 1882 an anonymous Philadelphia woman sent a letter to the Board of Directors charging that the life classes corrupted the morals of young art students and created "unbelievers, even infidels," while "the study of the beautiful in landscapes and draped figures, and the exquisitely beautiful in the flowers that the Heavenly Father has decked and beautified the world with is ignored." The letter was turned over to Fairman Rogers, who took no action on it. In 1884 the directors received a more serious complaint from one of the women students, Diana Franklin, about Eakins's use of the male students as models for the women's life class. This complaint prompted the directors to make a new rule forbidding students to pose for the life classes. However, Eakins apparently continued to disregard life class rules, for Charles Bregler reported that in 1885 there were "rumors and whisperings about Eakins because he was having male and female models pose for some of the life classes." These and other rumors may have been spread by some of Eakins's students and assistants, including Thomas Anshutz, who were perhaps motivated by personal dislike of Eakins or by ambitions to replace him on the faculty. In 1886 Eakins defiantly removed the loincloth from a male model in the women's life class, an action that led to the end of his career at the Academy. The removal of the loincloth was cited as the reason for the directors' request for his resignation. Eakins was told that he would have to change his policies or resign, and he chose the latter alternative.
The controversy was magnified when a number of students resigned from the Academy in sympathy with Eakins. The protesters publicly accused the Academy directors of prudery and ingratitude, causing the scandal which has since made the resignation so notable. Neither Eakins nor the directors were especially pleased by the crusade, and Eakins seems to have been hurt as much by the gossip rising from his students' overspirited defense of his policies, as by the original rumors. Realizing that accusations of immoral conduct could damage his career, Eakins moved to correct the rumors circulating in Philadelphia newspapers. On March 25, 1886, he sent an explanatory statement to Emily Sartain, which he authorized her to publish if she thought it was appropriate. Emily, an art teacher and his long-time friend, was an able and sympathetic judge of the situation. She did not publish the bitter statement in which Eakins had written:
No single factor actually caused Eakins's resignation. His emphatic, sometimes improper, use of the nude model, the Academy's financial difficulties, and the lack of sympathetic directors on the Committee on Instruction all contributed to the event. Perhaps the greatest problem was one rarely mentioned at the time -- a growing disagreement between Eakins and the directors about the aims and functions of the Academy school. In creating his ideal curriculum, Eakins felt that he was adhering to the principles developed by the great Greek sculptors. To him these principles were the proper basis of all academic study. Eakins's emphasis on the observation of nature, however, began to detract from the Academy's stated purpose of teaching art students how to draw and paint. His teaching became too specific, becoming an almost scientific investigation of the structure and appearance of the human figure. Such a narrow approach could not survive in the face of a developing idea of the art school as the source of all artistic training.
The 1880s saw immense growth and variations in the curriculums of other institutions, especially at the National Academy of Design. Sketch classes, drapery classes, and landscape classes became the order of the day in New York and elsewhere. These classes had no relationship to Eakins's concept of an ideal art education, and he did not encourage them at the Academy. In this he opposed the wishes of the Academy directors and students, who were naturally interested in keeping up with the latest ideas on art theory and education.
The directors' explanation of the resignation in their annual report for 1886 suggests that general dissatisfaction with Eakins's inflexible curriculum was one of their reasons for requesting his resignation. In the report, Edward Coates stated:
By restoring the antique and life classes to their proper roles in the student's education, and by adding new courses, the directors hoped to compete with other rising art institutions and to restore the school's financial equilibrium. The loss of Eakins, who was beginning to demand his unpaid back salary and who was, at the same time, alienating paying students, was not difficult for the directors to justify to themselves or to the Academy's stockholders.
After the resignation the ideological split between the teaching of the school and of its ex-director widened. Under the brief guidance of Thomas Hovenden and then more firmly under Thomas Anshutz, the school followed a conventional pattern of art education which included the developments which Eakins deplored. A number of new courses were added in the 1890s, and cast drawing was reinstated as a respectable part of the curriculum. Anshutz discontinued the use of photography as a teaching aid and phased out the dissecting class by 1895. The class was replaced with Anshutz's lectures on anatomy in the tradition of Dr. Keen. In 1896 William Merritt Chase was invited down from New York to teach the sketch and portrait classes. A skilled painter in the Munich manner, he taught very differently from Eakins. He did not care so much about observing as he did about painting. Lady with the White Shawl (cat. no. 215) shows Chase as concerned with the abstract disposition of colors and shapes as with the details of his subject's appearance. Chase's approach emphasized technical proficiency but gave his students many opportunities to develop their own styles, while Eakins's students had been limited by their instructor's very narrow teaching. By 1906 the school had changed so much that Eakins wrote to an inquiring art student:
In 1892 the Academy's new managing director Harrison Morris had attempted to lure Eakins back into Academy circles. Deciding that Eakins was the best painter in Philadelphia, he tried unsuccessfully to persuade Eakins to return to the faculty: but, under his influence, Eakins once again submitted his work to the Academy's annual shows. Most of his important paintings after 1886, including Walt Whitman (cat. no. 227), The Agnew Clinic (Collection of the University of Pennsylvania), and The Concert Singer (Philadelphia Museum of Art), were shown at annual exhibitions. In 1897 the Academy purchased The Cello Player (cat. no. 228) and in 1904 awarded him the Temple Gold Medal, probably at the instigation of Morris. The relationship between the two men ended in 1905, when Morris resigned from the Academy's Board of Directors. Eakins's growing reputation in the early years of the twentieth century, especially in New York, ensured that he would not be entirely forgotten in Philadelphia. However, the Academy directors and curators tolerated rather than accepted him, an attitude which would persist until his death.
An evaluation of Eakins's abilities as a teacher rests, in large part, on the success of his students' work. Eakins's Academy students fall roughly into two groups: those who worked in his tradition and those who did not. The pupils who followed his manner understood and applied his techniques to their work. Several of them gave promise of developing his ideas further until halted by the limits of their talent or ambition. Although some of his students comprehended his ideas, they were unable to match his achievements.
Thomas Anshutz studied with Eakins from 1875 to 1880. His early paintings, such as In a Garret (cat. no. 211) and Ironworkers: Noontime, show an interest in the ideas Eakins was developing at the Academy. For the latter painting, he utilized photographs and life studies and applied an aesthetic learned from Eakins to a modern industrial genre subject, thus foreshadowing the art of the Ashcan School. Anshutz continued his association with Eakins until 1886, assisting at the Academy and participating in Eakins's photographic experiments at the University of Pennsylvania. Anshutz's involvement in the rumors leading to Eakins's resignation ended their friendship, but Anshutz continued to apply many of Eakins's principles to his painting until 1893.
In 1892-93 Anshutz re-educated himself by studying for a year at the Academic Julian and learning of contemporary developments in French art. As a result of this experience and of his contacts with William Merritt Chase, Anshutz's style became flatter and more decorative in paintings like The Incense Burner (cat. no. 212).
Like Thomas Anshutz, Susan Macdowell was a devoted Eakins student whose art is worthy of recognition. She had been impressed by Eakins's Portrait of Dr. Gross when it was exhibited at the Centennial, and she was attracted by his teaching at the Academy. She soon became one of his best students. Her Portrait of a Gentleman and Dog and The Chaperone (cat. no. 219) show that she understood his teaching and could apply it to her own painting. Beside learning from Eakins, she also seems to have been one of the few students who contributed to his art. Her early interest in photography encouraged his own when he began taking photographs in 1880. The Portrait of a Gentleman and Dog probably introduced Eakins to her father, William Macdowell, who became one of his favorite subjects for portraits and photographs. Susan Macdowell married Eakins in 1884 and painted only sporadically thereafter. Eakins encouraged her to continue painting, but she spent much of her time advancing his career.
Susan Macdowell's sister Elizabeth also admired Eakins's work. She began studying with him in 1878 and accepted his teaching enthusiastically. She adopted at least one of his techniques, using a photograph for the composition of Daydreams. This was one of the few pictures she exhibited at the Academy, for her professional career was restricted after her marriage to Louis Kenton.
The majority of Eakins's Academy students did not know him as well as Anshutz and the Macdowells did. As a result, they did not fully understand the reasoning behind his teaching, and consequently they had great difficulty adapting the principles of his ideal education to their own talents.
Henry O. Tanner, for example, studied at the Academy in 1884 and 1885, having been admitted to the school by Eakins's special request. From 1886 to 1891 he struggled to make a living painting portraits and genre scenes in the realistic style he had learned from Eakins, and he was ready to abandon his vocation when a Chicago patron gave him money for a trip to France. After three years of study with Benjamin Constant in Paris, Tanner developed his own very successful style characterized by Biblical subject matter, muted colors, and hazy outlines, as in Nicodemus (cat. no. 246).
Although Eakins had few students who became highly successful artists, most of them benefited from some aspect of his instruction. Margaret Lesley Bush-Brown acquired a thorough knowledge of the human figure, which, in her Self-Portrait (cat. no. 214), is evident in the drawing of the hands and in the modeling of the caryatids below the fireplace mantel. She did not, however, use details of physical construction to suggest character, as Eakins and Anshutz had done; and her interest in color and brushwork led her away from the Eakins tradition.
Charles Fussell, primarily a landscape painter, returned to the Academy in 1879 to study under Eakins. He worked in the life class and the dissecting room, painting one of the grisaille studies (cat. no. 65) for the Scribner's article published in that year. His later interest in grisaille and the occasional intrusion of a human figure into his minutely rendered landscapes (cat. no. 232) may be the result of Eakins's influence.
For Eakins's Academy students who later became sculptors, his teaching made only a limited contribution to their development. Their studies at the Academy consisted of a brief stint in the antique class and longer hours in the dissecting room and modeling classes. It was understood that the sculpture students would learn advanced techniques and styles in Europe. The mature works of most of Eakins's sculpture students, in spite of the various styles and media they employed, have in common a thorough understanding of human anatomy. All of the sculptors were interested in the physical details which gave the subject character and individuality. Although Sergeant Kendall's Quest (cat. no. 236), a wooden polychromed figure, represents an ideal rather than a person, the artist has also created a strong likeness of the model which belies the generalized title. Equally the product of anatomical study and careful observation is Charles Grafly's Oarsman (cat. no. 234). Grafly modeled the figure as a demonstration for his own students in 1910. In spite of the generally didactic nature of the work, he portrayed the model carefully, including his insignificant moustaches.
In view of Eakins's high ideals for the education of the artist, the results of his teaching are generally disappointing. He was unable to transmit his ideas to his students without the benefit of close personal friendship. The eventual success of some of his students can be ascribed as much to the training they received after they left the Academy as to Eakins's instruction. Although Eakins made an impression on most of his pupils, he did not develop a lasting tradition.
As an independent teacher after 1886, Eakins could safely ignore new developments in art education. He continued to teach those subjects which interested him, lecturing on anatomy at the National Academy of Design in 1887 and at the New York Art Students League until 1895. At the Philadelphia Art Students' League, established by his former Academy students, Eakins taught his ideal curriculum until about 1892, but produced only one notable pupil, the sculptor Samuel Murray. Murray became Eakins's closest friend; his work shows that he understood his mentor's theories well. His small statues of Susan Eakins (cat. no. 239) and Thomas Eakins (cat. no. 240) were modeled in the nude and then the clothes were added, producing both anatomical correctness and realistic portraiture. Murray, more than any other pupil, had an opportunity to understand the aims behind Eakins's teaching, as these aims became increasingly visible in Eakins's art.
Eakins's resignation from the Academy forced him to reevaluate his conceptions of academic art and to examine the relationship between the academic principles he had learned and his basic committment to realism. His disillusionment with academicism must have made him view many of his earlier pictures, such as William Rush, The Fairman Rogers Four-in-Hand, and The Swimming Hole, as compromises, essentially conventional compositions with a few innovative elements. After 1886 Eakins's painting began to lose its didactic character, for he stopped trying to impose his techniques on others and began to integrate them into his own work. The portrait was an ideal format for this purpose. In this genre, Eakins could be truthful without offending contemporary morality. All of the interest which he had exhibited in the human body he now concentrated on the human face. His portraits exhibit the fascination with bone and flesh and texture seen in his earlier work, but working within the limited format of a person's head, hands, and clothing, Eakins was able to probe much deeper into individual moods and characters. His subjects were mainly professional people and personal friends -- doctors, musicians, poets, artists, and students -- people who usually did not sit for portraits and rarely paid for them. One of Eakins's earliest portraits after his resignation from the Academy was that of Walt Whitman, painted in 1887. In Whitman, already well known for Leaves of Grass, Eakins recognized a kindred spirit who had endured a public scandal over the allegedly immoral content of two of his poems published in that book. The portrait expresses all of the humor and warmth of the poet, revealing, as well, a degree of self-consciousness. Eakins's later portraits are even stronger than his earlier ones, for he had learned to subordinate the various "scientific" techniques he had previously used to capture an image to his own personal vision. In The Cello Player, for example, Eakins's techniques are entirely unobtrusive, so that the viewer of the painting seems to confront the cellist himself, without the intervention of the artist. But when Eakins was not in perfect sympathy with his sitters, his work became stiffer and somewhat satiric. Charles Edmund Dana, the stuffy president of the Academy Fellowship, is shown staring out at a seemingly bleak future, fortified with his cigarette holder and his coat of arms (cat. no. 229).
Eakins's late portraits, in their integration of the scientific and the aesthetic, most completely develop the principles and techniques he tried to teach at the Pennsylvania Academy. Although he was only partially successful in instituting these ideas into the curriculum and less successful in transmitting them to his students, Eakins must be considered a unique and highly innovative educator in terms of the concepts he wanted to communicate. He was one of the first American artists to comprehend the importance of the scientific advances of his age -- in photography, in medicine, even in physics -- and one of the very few to incorporate this knowledge into his art and teaching. His confrontation of social problems such as the roles of women and the rigid morality of Victorian Philadelphia also placed him well before his time.
An art school dedicated to teaching young students how to draw and paint was not the ideal place for a man of Eakins's aims and intellectual interests, which were bound to be frustrated by the conventional expectations and practical ambitions of his students and colleagues. On the other hand, Eakins was not the ideal man for the Academy, which required a teacher receptive to changes in theories of art education and willing to encourage the independent development of his students. The conflict between the ideals of Eakins's teaching and the purposes of the Academy school created the bitter misunderstandings which characterized his career there.
About the author
Louise Lippincott wrote the above essay as part of the catalogue, In This Academy: The Pennsylvanian Academy of the Fine Arts 1805 1976 published in 1976. Currently Dr. Lippincott is the Chief Curator and Curator of Fine Arts at Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.
Resource Library editor's note
The above exhibition catalogue text was reprinted in Resource Library on July 31, 2008, with permission of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. The permission was granted to TFAO on June 10, 2008. Dr. Lippincott's essay pertains to In This Academy: The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 1805 - 1976, which was on view at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1976 as a special Bicentennial exhibition.
Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Barbara Katus, Rights and Reproduction Manager of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and Stacey Wittig for their help concerning permissions for reprinting the above text.
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