“The works of Thomas Eakins should be viewed and studied by every student and, in fact, every lover of the fine arts.
Thomas Eakins was a man of great character. He was a man of iron will and his will was to paint and to carry out his life as he thought it should go. This he did. It cost him heavily, but in his works we have the precious result of his independence, his generous heart and his big mind.
Eakins was a deep student of life and with great love he studied humanity frankly. He was not afraid of what his study revealed to him.
In the matter of ways and means of expression – the science of technique – he studied most profoundly as only a great master would have the will to study. His vision was not touched by fashion. He cared nothing for prettiness or cleverness in life or in art. He struggled to apprehend the constructive force in nature and to employ in his works the principles found. His quality was honesty. “Integrity” is the word which seems best to fit him.
Personally, I consider him the greatest portrait painter America has produced. Being a great portrait painter, he was, as usual, commissioned to paint only a very few. But he had friends and he painted his friends. Look at these portraits well.
Forget for the moment your school, forget the fashion. Do not look for the expected, and the chances are you will find yourself, through the works, in close contact with a man who was a man, strong, profound and honest, and, above all, one who has attained the reality of beauty in nature as it is; who was in love with the great mysterious nature as manifested in man and things, who had no need to falsify to make romantic, or to sentimentalize to make beautiful.
Look, if you will, at the great Gross clinic picture, for the real stupendous romance in real life, and at the portrait of Miller for a man’s feeling for a man. This is what I call a beautiful portrait; not a pretty or a swagger portrait, but an honest, respectful, appreciative man-to-man portrait.
But I have no intention to specify. I simply ask you to look. I expect the pictures to tell you, if you can but see them from out of yourselves, and I expect them to fill you with courage and hope.
Eakins many years ago taught in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and in those days it was an excitement to hear his students tell of him. They believed in him as a great master, and there were stories of his power, his will in the pursuit of study, his unswerving adherence to his ideals, his great willingness to give, to help, and the pleasure he had in seeing the original and worthy crop out in a student’s work. And the students were right, for all this character you will find manifest in his work. Eakins’s pictures and his sculptures are the recordings of a man who lived and studied and loved with a strong heart.”