Silas Weir Mitchell (1829–1914)
Famed doctor, novelist, and poet S. Weir Mitchell links the two masterpieces in this exhibition: friend of both Eakins and Saint-Gaudens, he stood within the overlapping circles of science and art in Philadelphia at the turn of the twentieth century. Born in this city and educated at the University of Pennsylvania and Jefferson Medical College, Mitchell became a specialist in nervous diseases and psychological disorders. One of the inventors of the “rest cure” and the “camp cure,” he may have advised Eakins in the 1880s, when he was brought low by stress and depression. Earlier, Mitchell lent Eakins the Chippendale chair that appears in several paintings and sculptures, including William Rush Carving
of 1878, and Eakins gave him a watercolor of a hunting scene, probably knowing Mitchell’s enthusiasm as a sportsman. In 1889, representing the trustees of the University of Pennsylvania, Mitchell accepted the gift of Eakins’s painting, The Agnew Clinic
(on view in gallery 116, on loan from the University’s Medical School).
As a celebrated scientist and man of letters, Mitchell was often painted and sculpted, usually by elegant and fashionable artists such as John Singer Sargent and Robert Vonnoh. Perhaps wary of Eakins’s unsparing realism, he never posed for him, but he did sit for a relief portrait by Saint-Gaudens in 1884, beginning a friendship that led him to invite the sculptor to undertake a memorial to his daughter in 1901.