Thomas Eakins & Miss Amelia Van Buren Essay
Thomas Eakins & Miss Amelia Van Buren
The current project will analyze the oil canvas titled ‘Miss Amelia Van Buren’ that was created by a well-known USA painter and portraitist Thomas Eakins in 1891. The portrait is part of a series titled “Women in Pink” and belongs to the masterpieces of American Realism. The aim of the paper is to discuss the style and subject matter of this artwork as an integral part of the artist’s creative ancestry and within a broad historical framework. Eakins’s production was often rejected by contemporaries. This fact proves that any piece of artistry expresses different meanings for patrons and art audiences as well as for the artist himself.
These competing implication will be assessed throughout the paper. Thomas Eakins: Brief Biography The reputation of Thomas Eakins (1844–1916) as an outstanding representative of the American school of realism in painting, photography, sculpture, and fine arts education was established only a few decades upon his death. Eakins was born in Philadelphia, where, watching his father, a writing master and calligraphy teacher, at duty, by twelve he has acquired profound skills in drawing, perspective planning, employing a grid to produce an accurate design.
Thomas was graduated from Central High School, the first-class public school for applied science and arts, and entered the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1861 to refine the knowledge of drawing and anatomy. The latter realm interested Eakins to such an extent that in 1864-1865 he started diligently attending courses in anatomy and dissection at Jefferson Medical College. In 1866, the young man joined the studio of Jean-Leon Gerome, a prominent Orieintalist painter, at the Paris School of Arts. The American student also frequented into the atelier of Leon Bonnat who put forward anatomical preciseness as a cornerstone of Realism.
Upon the four-year period of studying abroad, Eakins returned back to the native city. His first portrayals of rowers (e. g. , ‘Single Scull’ or ‘The Champion Single Sculling,’ 1871; a series of eleven oils and watercolors altogether) stirred attention within Philadelphians due to their innovative treatment of a dynamically moving human body portrayed outdoors. In parallel with inquiring into the sports themes, the young artist created a range of domestic Victorian interiors (e. g. , ‘Home Scene,’ 1871; ‘Elizabeth at the Piano,’ 1875; ‘The Chess Players,’ 1876; ‘Elizabeth Crowell and her Dog.
’ 1874). The first large scale portrait ‘Kathrin’ was made in 1872. In 1876, Eakins commenced his teaching career at the Pennsylvania Academy – first as a volunteer teacher, then as a salaried professor (since 1878), and finally as director (1882-1886). Upon the scandalous resignation consequently to original methods of teaching, Eakins lectured at many art schools, including the Art Students’ League of Philadelphia, the Art Students League of New York, the National Academy of Design, Cooper Union, and the Art Students’ Guild in Washington, D. C.
, until the withdrawal from teaching in 1898. Eakins was not only a talented painter, but also a gifted photographer. His acquaintance with camerawork took place during his European studies and continued thereupon, when the artist learnt about the photographic motion research of Eadweard Muybridge and started his own experiments in the field. Many well-known canvases of Eakins were created relying on photographs to better understand the dynamics of body movements and increase the awareness of perspective (e. g. , ‘Mending the Net,’ 1881; ‘Arcadia.
’ 1883). In 1883, the artist started shooting the so-called ‘Naked Series,’ nude photographic depictions of students and professional models that revealed human anatomy from certain angles. About eight hundred photographs are thought to belong to Eakins and his followers. The fame of Eakins as a prominent representative of American Realism heavily relies on his portraits. Several hundred canvases depicted representatives of the local Philadelphian Bohemia, scientists, and medical workers (e. g. , ‘The Gross Clinic,’ 1875; ‘The Portrait of Dr.
John Brinton,’ 1876; ‘The Agnew Clinic,’ 1889; ‘The Dean’s Roll Call,’ 1899; ‘The Concert Singer,’ 1890-92; ‘The Portrait of Maud Cook,’ 1895; ‘Antiquated Music,’ 1900; ‘The Portrait of Professor Leslie W. Miller,’ 1901) in their professional environment. On the reason of intense anatomic realism and the artist’s notoriety upon dismissal from the Pennsylvania Academy, Eakins’ portraits were often rejected by the sitters or their relatives. Therefore, the artists invited his relatives and friends (e. g. , ‘The Portrait of Walt Whitman,’ 1887-1888) to act as models.
In the 1880s and 1990s, the artist created his finest examples of figure studies (e. g. , ‘The Swimming Hole,’ 1884-5; ‘Between Rounds,’ 1899; ‘Salutat,’ 1898). The portraits created by Eakins in the early 20th century captured the local Catholic clergymen (e. g. , ‘The Portrait of His Eminence Sebastiano Cardinal Martinelli,’ 1902; ‘The Portrait of Archbishop William Henry Elder,’ 1903; ‘The Portrait of Monsignor James P. Turner,’ ca. 1906). In the late period of life Eakins started enjoying recognition. In 1902, he was granted the title of a National Academician.
Two years before death, in 1914, the artist sold a portrait study of D. Hayes Agnew for The Agnew Clinic to Dr. Albert C. Barnes for four thousand dollars. In 1917-18, Eakins’ works were exhibited at the memorial retrospectives at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy. Upon the death of Susan Macdowell Eakins, the artist’s wife, the major part of Eakins’ creative ancestry was purchased by Joseph Hirshhorn, and now is stored at the Hirshhorn Museum’s collection. Eakins’ house in North Philadelphia was included to the National Register of Historic Places list in 1966.
In 2006, a group of sponsors paid $68,000,000 to keep ‘The Gross Clinic’ in Philadelphia, while previously it was planned to sell the canvas to the museums located in other cities, ‘Miss Amelia Van Buren’ (1891) Miss Amelia Van Buren (c. 1856-1942) was Eakins’s student and the friend of his family. This gifted painter and photographer participated in an episode that indirectly initiated resignation of the master from the post of director at the Pennsylvania Academy. One day, a young female asked the teacher to explain the anatomical function of the pelvis.
At his lessons, Eakins exercised bold methods and stirred the differences between male and female students by exposing nude models of both sexes in the class where both men and women were present. Putting anatomy of a human body to the foreground, professor encouraged his followers not to afraid the Victorian model and bravely approach the secrets of physiology. Therefore, Eakins invited Van Buren to his studio and provided the requested instruction. The painter described the episode as follows: “There stripping myself, I gave her the explanation as I could not have done by words only.
” Later on, Eakins’s behavior made the evil-wishers accuse him of sexual harassment and inappropriate methods of teaching. The painter responded with dignity, yet showing no signs of regret or shame: “There was not the slightest embarrassment or cause for embarrassment on her part or mine. I think indeed [Van Buren] might have been embarrassed, if I had picked up a man on the street and endeavored to persuade him to undress before the lady for a quarter. ” Eakins often used his students as models for his works and saw nothing undignified in exchanging professional secrets with the members of his circle regardless of their sex.
Van Buren was also publicly accused of posing nude in front in the painter. That fact aroused many rumors and negatively affected the woman’s reputation that could seriously spoil her social activity in those prudent times. Werbel has stressed that Amelia Van Buren altogether with Elizabeth Macdowell, Eakins’ future wife Susan, Cecilia Beaux, Alice Barber Stephens, and other female students of the Pennsylvania Academy belonged to the circle of the so-called “New Women. ” They shared Eakins’ opinion concerning equal rights of men and women for education and social activity.
Those females were talented artists and actively participated in the cultural life of Philadelphia. Feeling at ease with their own principles and encouraged by the master, to whom they deeply trusted, those “New Women” were not afraid of public hypocritical scorn. To return back to the oil canvas, it provides us with attentive, unflattering, and surgically sharp vision of a young woman, sitting near the window. Her figure is softly glowing in the daylight, while the background remains deem and dark. Salcman made an almost poetic description of the portrait’s details.
A woman in her twenties sits in the armchair, as if she has suffered through a hard day and now is having an unexpected break. The model is so absorbed into her thoughts that even the atmosphere around her is pregnant with some intensive, yet joyless mental activity. The gaze of a spectator is initially attracted to Miss Van Buren’s Victorian pink dress with a standard for that time fluffy crinoline. The pink color of the upper gown that reminds of slightly dewed rose petals harmonizes with the soft, milky tint of the crinoline apron. Multiple folds on the skirt that underline the pensive, slightly tired pose of the woman, mask the body.
Eyes that are literally lost in this whirl of light cloth approach the face of the model only upon spending some time on looking at minor details. The latter are the half-opened fan, lying on a thigh of the figure, and a narrow and elegant hand that is shadowed by the arm of the armchair. The rosy pale face of Miss Van Buren sharply contrasts with her gray hair that makes her look, as if she is in the late thirties or even forties. Salcman has noted that the artist is far from flattering his muse. The head of the woman rests on the left loosely fisted hand with its left temple and turned towards the light, away from spectators.
The pose signifying uneasy feelings arouses hot arguments among the researchers. Salcman observed “regret,” “disappointment,” and “a loss of possibilities” in the expression of Amelia’s face as shown in the tight lips and lowered eyes that are thoughtfully gazing into the window. Kirkpatrick has noted that the model looks “unhappily lost in thought, trapped and vulnerable as a caged bird. ” It is evident that each art critic tried to impose his or her own understanding of human facial mimics or the inner world of the artist.
On the point, a very important observation was delivered by Henry Adams who analyzed the works of Eakins in parallel with peripetias of the artist’s life. The researcher stressed that the master “was not simply recording faces, but also exploring something about his own mental condition. ” In 1891, when the portrait of Miss Van Buren was made, Eakins could not still re-discover the inner equilibrium upon the scandalous resignation from the Pennsylvania Academy. Teaching was one of the favorite activities for the master, where he could freely communicate with young like-minded people and test his innovative ideas in painting and photography.
At that period, Eakins lectured at the Art Students’ League of Philadelphia, but the institution was about to dissolve, which happened the following year upon execution of the portrait. The painter’s canvases were constantly rejected by critics and exhibitioners, so it was rather the 47-year-old master than his model had reasons to look gloomy and caged. It really seems that both spectators and critics tend to apply their own emotions onto the canvas, while forgetting about the broader context for the artwork.
Amelia Van Buren left no memoirs about the implications for her suspected depression at that period. She truly admired Eakins both as a professional and a teacher, being not afraid of exposing her soul in front of the artist’s intent eyes. Van Buren was a rare exception so far as many people, whom the painter asked to sit for their portraits, declined the invitation. As one of Eakins’ contemporaries explained, “He would bring out all those traits of my character I have been trying to conceal from the public for years.
” It speaks on the fact that the master intended to excavate, so to say, the inner deposits of ideas and emotions that common members of the Victorian society were scared to reveal. The fear of self-exposure was not the case of Miss Van Buren. She agreed to sell the portrait only in 1927. Her letter to an exhibitioner who proposed to purchase the masterpiece of American Realist school contains the following lines: I accept your offer and while I shall miss the picture I shall like to think of it in your gallery where I hope to see it sometime soon.
Mr. Eakins’ friends have always been sure that his work would be appreciated in time. The portrait of Miss Amelia Van Buren is now stored in the Phillips Collection, Washington, D. C. , and arouses a combination of stress under the burden of intense emotions depicted and admiration at the mastery of Eakins in showing the secret depths of human souls. Women in Pink Relying on Eakins’ memoirs, Adams has stressed that the theme of females clad in the pink gamut has been explored by the painter for almost two decades.
Some well-known canvases from this series include ‘Miss Amelia Van Buren’ (1891), ‘The Concert Singer’ (1890-92, Philadelphia Museum of Art), ‘The Portrait of Maud Cook’ (1895, Yale University Art Gallery. ), and ‘The Actress’ (1903, Philadelphia Museum of Art). These artworks should be examined both separately and within a group to understand the state of the artist and the dynamics of his creative potential. The 1890s was an extremely hard period for Eakins who was vulnerable to the complications of life and public reactions as every great man of arts.
As it has been mentioned earlier, his teaching career collapsed, partly on the cause of his own provocative behavior and remarks. Upon the initial period of recognition among the critics and gallery owners shortly upon coming back from Europe, the master experienced challenges in regards to both selling his works to make for living and to establishing stable relationships with relatives and the broader public. Adams treats the series of female portraits that were executed in the late 1880s and throughout the 1890s as manifestation of depressive feelings and unsettled creative quests.
The portrait of Van Buren demonstrates a perfect harmony between the complex inner state of the painter and the concealed disharmony of the model who suffered from emotional illness. The slumped pose of the model, the eyes diverted from spectators, the sharp contrast between the warm pink-milky gamut of the figure in the foreground and the rich, brown and mahogany color of the background – all these feature the mood of tension that abruptly mutilates into the deep exhaustion. The depiction of a “small woman with a large brooding spirit” is the first step on the ladder of self-discovery for the painter, and the next is ‘The Concert Singer.
‘ The model for the portrait – a famous opera performer Weda Cook – started sitting or better say standing for Eakins in 1890. Cook debuted at the Pennsylvanian Academy of Music when she was only sixteen years old, and since then often pleased the demanding Philadelphian public. The painter depicted his model as dressed in a radiant pink dress, singing on the stage. It should be stressed here that Eakins was particularly accurate in depicting the specifics of his model’s profession or emotional state.
He asked Weda Cook to sing “O Rest in the Lord” from Mendelssohn’s Elijah to convey intensity of her artistic manner and carved the opening notes of the musical piece on the frame. Another interesting detail is that for the sake of better rendering of body, Eakins asked the model to undress to her underwear. Cook strongly opposed the idea but finally gave up and agreed. There is a similarity between the two portraits of Van Buren and Cook in regards to the pyramidal composition, but the general gamut and mood of the canvases contrast each other.
While the choice of colors for Van Buren’s depiction aims to reveal the model’s delicacy, fragility, even exhaustion, the gamut for Cook’s portrayal manifests a greater extent of energy and self-assuredness. Such effect takes place due to the background: in case of Van Buren it is intense and dim (in a manner similar to Diego Velazquez and Jusepe de Ribera, Eakins’ favorite Spanish painters), and in case of Cook the olive smoky backstage is rather light, and the whole pose of the full-length figure of the model altogether with decorations of the scene remind of some European masters such as Edgar Degas and James Whistler.
To continue about composition, the body of Van Buren is framed by the chair, as if the only thing that provides her with some kind of support is the furniture’s arm. Her slumped pose and bended head create the atmosphere of misbalance and awkwardness. On the opposite, the erect pose of the singer and her hands that are elegantly and somewhat affectively placed in front of the waist remind of a bird that is ready to fly upwards. However, this is not a triumphant gesture but a movement of “flight and loss.
” The opera performer is placed in the center of the composition. It seems that minor details – such as the conductor’s hand in the lower left corner of the canvas, the bunch of roses on the floor in the lower right corner, and the palm’s branch in the upper left section of the picture – do not constrain the freedom of the heroine. However, similarly to Van Buren, Cook diverts her eyes from spectators and looks upfront and above people’s heads. The very pose underlines the model’s concealed isolation and loneliness.
Her eyes are surrounded with red rims and shades so that there is an effect of hastily wiped tears or insomnia. There is a difference also between the tints of models’ gowns: the one of Van Buren looks like slightly frosted, the effect is unlined by the pearl color of her grayish hair; the dress of Cook is radiant and festive, decorated with olive inserts and a long trail. One might also note that the flesh is almost totally absent on the portrait of Van Buren, whereas Cook demonstrates bare neck, shoulders, and hands.
The contrast in regards to body exposure between the two females emphasize their attitude to public attention: while the first model attempts to conceal her internal state from spectators, the latter derives her energy from the outer world. Eakins does not want to portray women as more beautiful that they are. Van Buren looks older than other women of her age, and the features of her face are not harmonious. Cook cannot either be called young and pretty. Her hands are plump and reddish, her open mouth and a wrinkle on the neck makes one think that she is doing a hard job instead of executing a beautiful song.
Werbel has commented on the specifics of Eakins’ treatment of women’s beauty. The artist conceptualized it as “faithful, undistorted attention to the individual anatomy and attributes of each person. ” Due to his original technique the painter was often thought of as “a rebel” as he transferred onto the canvas all defects of the sitters’ physical appearance. Both Van Buren’s and Weda Cook’s faces are sculpturally expressive and anatomically true. Some of Eakins’ followers and many representatives of that time society got scared of such preciseness and sharpness.
The physically attentive dissection of women’s features that are perceived by Eakins as a combination of bones, muscles, and soft tissues became less intense by the mid-1980s. The thesis can be illustrated by the portrait of Maud Cook (1895) that concludes the first half of the series depicting women in pink. We see the tenderly dimmed face and upper part of torso belonging to a young, dark-haired woman with large eyes that are glowing from inside. Her delicate long neck streaming down softly to get lost in the gaze material of her light pink dress. In his usual manner, Eakins shows the model gazing away from the artist and the public.
Her concentration on her emotions speaks of melancholy rather than of depression. In comparison to the portraits of Van Buren and Weda Cook, this particular image is less intense in feelings and is remarkable for restoration from frustration. According to Adams, the portrait of Maud Cook signifies the improvement in the artist’s fight with his demons. His works of the mid-1890s manifest recovery from the previous depression and self-disagreement. However, the stability was ruined by the suicide of Eakins’ niece Ella Crowell, after which grievous facts the painter’s sister and her husband broke relationships with Thomas.
The master returns to the theme of female portraits only within a decade. The canvas titled ‘The Actress’ (1903) that depicts Suzanne Santje looks completely different from the earlier examples of the same series. In the foreground we see a woman in her thirties. The model sits in the pose that is usual for Eakins’ female portraits – the head is diverted towards the source of light and away from observers. The narrow face with high cheekbones looks slightly emaciated. Even a tender radiance that evaporates like a gaze from the middle facial part cannot conceal the paleness of the skin.
Thick dark hair are in the artistic disorder as well as the festive bright pink gown. Suzanne Santje is portrayed full-length, and her body reminds in its graciousness of a mermaid who has just appeared from waters to brood over her tragic destiny. The model’s hands rest on the chair’s arms, demonstrating fatigue and grieve. It seems that the actress has just left the stage where she demonstrated luxurious and self-conscious hedonism, but here, in the artist’s studio she can be herself – tired, ageing, concentrated on the shallowness of life.
The series under the collective title “Women in Pink” reveals Eakins’ progression between various artistic styles under the impact of his inner state. The earlier “clinical approach to the body” as evident in previously made portraits of Van Buren and Weda Cook gives place to the more merciful treatment of the sitter’s appearance as in the portrait of Maud Cook and finally resolves into the sympathetic, yet intense observation of the model soul as in ‘The Actress.
’ Regardless of Eakins’ experiments with composition and gamut, representations of a series from different periods demonstrate the same “blood and bone authenticity,” for which the painter was severely criticized throughout life and for which he is praised nowadays. These female portraits provide an attentive, brilliant account of women living in the Victorian or Early Modernism age and were constrained in their emotions and behavior by rigid standards of the broader, pro-masculine society.
As Ratcliff has observed, the painter gave a chance to his female sitters, sitting in dim and small rooms, to look through the window into the sunlit world of freedom, self-discovery, and harmony. Clark argues that women’s portraits are part of “a poignant and pointed critique of woman’s place in the ‘heroic’ modern world. ” Despite the merciless accurateness and realism of the painter in revealing physical drawbacks of the models, they look really feminine and attractive.
What adds real gorgeousness to the images of both females is their passionate absorption by their rich inner world and the courageous flexibility, with which they face the unwelcoming, prison-like environment. The series demonstrates also the continuous struggle of Eakins himself to freely express his creative potential and to overcome all challenges imposed by the society and the family. Thomas Eakins: Blood and Bone Authenticity Art critic Lloyd Goodrich referred to the artistic manner of Thomas Eakins as follows:
Seldom has there been so consistent a realist as Eakins – one whose art was such a direct outgrowth of reality… Every figure be painted was a portrait, every scene or object a real one… the actual rather than the ideal. Each Eakins’ model is not isolated in its anatomical validity but becomes a mirror for the surrounding contexts so that the inner and outer realities are colliding, mixing up, confrontating and intermingling between each other just in front of observers’ eyes. Due to Eakins’ mastery people turn into iconographic symbols that express both their own value and convey the atmosphere of the social period.
The specifics of Eakins’s style tackles the portrait genre as treated flexibly both in the interiors and outdoors – in the offices, streets, parks, water basins, arenas, and hospitals of his hometown, Philadelphia. As a painter and photographer, Eakins admired the beautiful human bodies – either completely nude or lightly dressed so that to reveal motion – demonstrating energy altogether with harmony between the inner and outer sides of person’s nature. Bibliography Adams, Henry, and Thomas Eakins. Eakins revealed: The secret life of an American artist. New York City: Oxford University Press, 2005.
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Ratcliff, Carter. “Thomas Eakins: Pictured lives. ” Art in America, no. 6 (June 2002), http://findarticles. com/p/articles/mi_m1248/is_6_90/ai_87022989/. Salcman, Michael. The clock made of confetti. Alexandria, Va. : Orchises, 2007. Shi, David E. Facing facts realism in American thought and culture, 1850 – 1920. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. Simpson, Marc. “Thomas Eakins and His Arcadian Works. ” Smithsonian Studies in American Art 1, no. 2 (1987): 71-95. Werbel, Beth. Thomas Eakins: Art, medicine, and sexuality in nineteenth-century Philadelphia. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007.