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Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Thomas Eakins, American realist painter of the late 19th century by Kaye Spencer #americanartists #oldwestpaintings #prairierosepubs

When I think of artists whose paintings and sculptures captured the essence of the American West, the names that come to mind are:

Charles Russell (1864-1926) His dramatic representations usually show men on horseback. He also sculpted.
Charles Russel - Bronc to Breakfast
 George Catlin (1796-1872) His work was predominantly concerned with the Native Americans.

George Catlin - Tipis
Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902) His paintings leaned toward sweeping, romantic landscapes of the Old West.

Albert Bierstadt - Prong Horned Antelope
 Thomas Moran (1837-1926) His paintings focused on western landscapes like Albert Bierdstadt’s.

Thomas Moran - Green River, Wyoming
Frederic Remington (1861-1909) His artistic talents leaned toward paintings and sculptures involving cavalry officers, Native Americans, and horses. He provided illustrations of the American West for magazines.
Frederic Remington - Fight for the Waterhole
To this esteemed list, I would add the Philadelphia native, Thomas Cowperthwait Eakins (1844-1909). His works, while not strictly focused on the west, are a more well-rounded study of the human condition of the time, albeit, the ‘eastern’ time. 
Thomas Eakins - Self-portrait
 James Thomas Flexner - writer and 20th century scholar, biographer, researcher, art aficionado - said of Thomas Eakins, “His gift was to catch people at the moment when they lapsed into themselves.”1

Thomas Eakins' wife and his setter dog

Life in the American east and in Europe influenced the happenings in the west. The fashions, medicine and medical milestones, transportation, sports, leisure, and the day-to-day living “back east” had eventual impacts on life out west, and Thomas Eakins’ paintings show us those connections. For me, the ‘life’ he painted and preserved on canvas and his photography tell a broader story of what real life was like back then.

Thomas Eakins - Four-in-Hand - May Morning in the Park 1880

Thomas Eakins - Home Ranch

Eakins was a realist painter, photographer, photographer, sculptor, and fine arts educator. Other than trips abroad, he lived his life in his home town of Philadelphia, and the subjects of his art were the people around him. Eakins was a ‘colorful’ character for all of his 71 years, and he possessed a life-long passion for the human body as the ultimate art form. This information from Wikipedia sums up his work and his philosophy as a teacher:

He painted several hundred portraits, usually of friends, family members, or prominent people in the arts, sciences, medicine, and clergy. Taken en masse, the portraits offer an overview of the intellectual life of Philadelphia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; individually, they are incisive depictions of thinking persons.

He believed that women should "assume professional privileges" as would men. Life classes and dissection were segregated but women had access to male models (who were nude but for loincloths).

Thomas Eakins - The Courtship
Controversy shaped much of his career as a teacher and as an artist. He insisted on teaching men and women "the same", used nude male models in female classes and vice versa.

Thomas Eakins looking at his painting/portrait of Dr. Samuel D. Gross
of the Gross Clinic
Thomas Eakins - The Agnew Clinic
I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2008 and view the Thomas Eakins exhibit. Yes, THAT museum with the “Rocky” stairs. For fun, here’s a picture of me and Rocky. Yes, I did run up the stairs...about ten of them...

Kaye Spencer and the Rocky statue
For more information about Thomas Eakins, I would direct you to the website devoted to his life and works — — and to this book, The Revenge of Thomas Eakins by Sidney D. Kirkpatrick.

Until next time,


Stay in contact with Kaye::

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Note: The images included in this post are in the Public Domain and can be found through the Google Art Project, which is an “online platform through which the public can access high-resolution images of artworks housed in the initiative's partner museums.” Some images are mine that I took while visiting the Philadelphia Museum of Art in June 2008.

1. Kirkpatrick, Sidney D. “In Light and Shadow.” The Revenge of Thomas Eakins, Yale Univ. Press, 2006.


  1. Fascinating! So interesting about all these artists.
    Thansk for sharing, Kaye

  2. If I had any talent, I would have been a painter. I love realistic looking works.

    What a wonderful collection of artists who captured life in those 'early' days. Thank you. Doris

    1. I have zero artistic talent. I can't even make a paint-by-number look even vaguely like the picture on the box. lolol

  3. I love your post, Kaye. I've adored Charlie Russell ever since I first discovered his paintings years ago and wanted to go to his museum in Great Falls. I've kept calendars of his work just so I have the paintings and made reference to him being Chase's inspiration to paint in my books. However, there is one more painter that should be on your list of great artists: Will James. He's a French Canadian cowboy, artist, and writer who moved to Nevada in the late 1890s. He painted cowboy scenes and ranch life that usually included spirited horses. Do look him up when you have a chance, Kaye, because he, too, is an incredible western artist. I don't know why it took so long to have him inducted in 1992 into the Hall of Great Westerners of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.

    1. Elizabeth,

      Will James is an outstanding artist. You should write a blog article about him. (*hint hint*)

    2. Amusing you should suggest that, Kaye, because it has been on my mind to do a blog article on him. An elderly gentleman I know here in town is a huge fan of Will James and has an extensive collection of Will's works.

  4. I love this post. Great to see some details of the creators as well as their creations. I particularly adore the way the light is captured on the picture of the deer. Very special.

    1. C.A.,

      Thanks for stopping by. I agree that the use of light in many of these paintings makes the difference between a nice painting and a painting that just about takes your breath away.