Skip to main content

Thomas Eakins: American Realist

October 4, 2001–January 6, 2002

With his life and work deeply rooted in Philadelphia, Thomas Eakins (1844–1916) emerged as one of the most outstanding American artists of the nineteenth century. In celebration of its 125th anniversary in 2001, the museum will present a spectacular loan exhibition surveying, for the first time in nearly 20 years, the career of this enormously challenging, controversial, and influential artist. On view will be some 60 major oil paintings, together with examples of Eakins’ work in watercolor, drawing, and sculpture, selected from the museum’s own unrivaled collections and borrowed from public and private collections nationwide. Eakins was one of the earliest American artists to make photography an integral part of his creative process. For the first time in a major retrospective of his work, Thomas Eakins: American Realist will include some 120 photographs by the artist and his circle.

Eakins was among the first generation of American artists who flocked to Paris for artistic training. Unlike his contemporaries, however, he was determined to apply Beaux-Arts techniques to subjects that were distinctly American and reflected his own experience. Eakins’ preoccupation with athletics is reflected in his famous scenes of rowing, sailing, fishing, and boxing, among other sports. Some of the finest and most celebrated of these—Max Schmitt in a Single Scull, Starting Out After Rail, Shad Fishing at Gloucester on the Delaware River, and Between Rounds, among others—are shown in this exhibition.

Eakins is equally well-known for his portraits that, as deeply moving character studies, often reflect the complexities of American life at the turn of the century. His two controversial paintings of famous surgeons at work in their operating amphitheaters—Portrait of Dr. Samuel D. Gross (The Gross Clinic) and The Agnew Clinic—are included. Also on view is a group of other outstanding portraits, including Miss Van Buren, Professor Henry A. Rowland, The Thinker, and Mrs. William D. Frishmuth.

The last comprehensive survey of Eakins’ work was mounted by the museum in 1982; it traveled to the museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Since that time, there has been a great deal of exciting new scholarship about Eakins and his times, and many previously unknown works by him have surfaced. Thomas Eakins: American Realist introduces a new generation of the public to this great painter and key figure in American art.

  • Philadelphia Museum of Art: October 4, 2001–January 6, 2002
  • Musée d'Orsay, Paris: February 5–May 12, 2002
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: June 18–September 15, 2002

Main Building

About the Artist


The exhibition is made possible by:

Additional support is provided by generous grants from The Henry Luce Foundation, Inc., and the Robert J. Kleberg, Jr. and Helen C. Kleberg Foundation. Funding for initial research and planning was provided by the Pew Charitable Trusts and The William Penn Foundation.

Promotional partners for this exhibition are NBC 10 WCAU and Amtrak.


Darrel Sewell, Robert L. McNeil, Jr., Curator of American Art

Check out other exhibitions

View full calendar