The Revenge of Thomas Eakins by Sidney D Kirkpatrick - review by William Packer

William Packer

Portrait of a Realist

The Revenge of Thomas Eakins


Yale University Press 566pp £25

This sad and at times heroic story hardly tells of a revenge – unless a posthumous, too-long-delayed and entirely deserved critical rehabilitation counts as such. There is certainly no doubting the importance of its hero, Thomas Eakins, as an artist, nor of the circumstantial interest of his life. If even now he is not that well known outside the United States (though a substantial exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in 1993 did at least do something to put the record straight here), within the context of the American School of the late nineteenth century he is indeed a major figure.

Born in Philadelphia in 1844 into the rising middle class, son of a master calligrapher, Thomas Eakins was a gifted schoolboy and star of the city’s Central High School. Polyglot and polymathic, he chose surgery as his first subject at the local Jefferson Medical College. This early commitment to anatomy

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RLF - March