Thomas Eakins - Street Art Museum Tours

Thomas Eakins

Thomas Cowperthwait Eakins (July 25, 1844 – June 25, 1916) was an American realist painter, photographer, sculptor, and fine arts educator. He is considered one of the most significant American artists of the 19th century, known for his uncompromising realism and his willingness to tackle controversial subject matter.

Woman portrait by Thomas Ea

Untitled Photograph by Thomas Eakins 1910

Early Life and Education:

Thomas Eakins was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and showed an early interest in art. He attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) and later studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, France, where he honed his artistic skills and was influenced by European art movements.

Boat going to sea

Starting Out after Rail Thomas Eakins 1874

Artistic Career:

Upon returning to the United States, Eakins established himself as an artist and began teaching at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He had a profound impact on his students, encouraging them to observe and depict the human body with accuracy and anatomical precision. His teaching methods were considered controversial at the time, as he often used nude models and required dissections of animal and human corpses to understand anatomy better.

The Artist's Wife and His Setter Dog

The Artist's Wife and His Setter Dog Thomas Eakins 1884 - 1889

Eakins' paintings often focused on sports, portraits, and the human figure. He was particularly interested in the world of rowing, producing some iconic works depicting rowing scenes on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. Some of his notable works include "Max Schmitt in a Single Scull," "The Gross Clinic," "The Agnew Clinic," and "The Swimming Hole."


Eakins' dedication to realism and his insistence on depicting the human body truthfully sometimes led to controversy and public rejection of his works. For example, "The Gross Clinic," a painting depicting a surgery, was considered too graphic and was rejected from the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876. However, it has since become one of his most celebrated pieces.

A Surgery

The Gross Clinic Thomas Eakins 1875


Despite facing criticism during his lifetime, Eakins' work and teaching methods had a profound impact on American art. His realistic approach and emphasis on the study of anatomy greatly influenced the next generation of American artists, and he is now regarded as a pioneer of American realism.

Thomas Eakins' legacy endures through his extensive body of work, which includes not only paintings but also photography and sculpture. His contributions to art and education continue to be appreciated and studied by artists and art enthusiasts around the world.

Death and Recognition:

Eakins passed away on June 25, 1916, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After his death, his works gained increasing recognition, and today, many of his paintings are held in major museums and collections worldwide, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. His impact on the art world and his dedication to artistic truth continue to be celebrated and admired to this day.

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