Thomas Eakins (1844-1916)

Portrait of Thomas J. Eagan

Thomas Eakins (1844-1916)
Portrait of Thomas J. Eagan
signed, dated and inscribed 'To his friend and pupil Thomas Eakins 1907' center right
oil on canvas
24 x 20in. (61 x 50.8cm.)
Thomas J. Eagan, the sitter, Conshohocken, Peensylvania
M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above
L. Goodrich, Thomas Eakins: His Life and Works, New York, 1933, no. 440, p. 203
A. Burroughs, "Catalogue of Works by Thomas Eakins (1869-1916)," The Arts, June 1924, p. 333, incorrectly dated "1910"
L. Goodrich, "Catalogue of the Works of Thomas Eakins," The Bulletin, The Pennsylvania Museum of Art, March 1930, v. 25, p. 31, no. 302
New York, M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., A Loan Exhibition of the Works of Thomas Eakins, 1844-1944, Commemorating the Centennial of his Birth, June-July 1944, no. 79, illus. (This exhibition also traveled to Wilmington, Delaware, Wilmington Society of the Fine Arts, October 1944; Boston, Massachusetts, Doll & Richards, November 1944; Raleigh, North Carolina, North Carolina Museum of Art, November-December 1944)
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Carnegie Institute, Department of Fine Arts, Thomas Eakins Centennial Exhibition, 1844-1944, April-June 1945, no. 38
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, 19th and 20th Century American Paintings from Private Collections, June-September 1972, no. 22

Lot Essay

Among the greatest portrait painters of the late nineteenth century, Thomas Eakins sought subjects with unusual character and intellect. About 1885, a year after his marriage to Susan Macdowell, Eakins largely gave up all categories of painting except portraits. His sitters were usually friends, relatives and professionals, or, like Thomas Eagan, students from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where Eakins taught from 1876 until his resignation in 1886. John Wilmerding writes, "Viewed along with Winslow Homer as one of the greatest artists America has produced, Thomas Eakins shared in creating on one level a penetrating image of American life and character, and on another level one of the towering humane visions in the history of art." (Thomas Eakins and the Heart of American Life, London, England, 1993, p. 16)

Portrait of Thomas J. Eagan exemplifies Eakins' interest in humanity, as the painter and his subject shared much in common. Thomas J. Eagan was a longtime friend and pupil of Eakins and would serve as Eakins' pallbearer when he died in 1916. Unlike other students who left Eakins' tutelage at the time of his resignation from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Eagan remained loyal to his teacher and friend, and he was among those individuals in Eakins' inner circle who left the academy with the painter to found the Art Students' League of Philadelphia. Portrait of Thomas J. Eagan stands as a testament to the firm bonds established between student and teacher during the difficult years leading up to and immediately following Eakins departure from the Pennsylvania Academy in 1886.

Like many of Eakins' finest works, Portrait of Thomas J. Eagan reveals the sitter's intellect and strength of character. Eakins has emphasized Eagan's sparkling eyes--perhaps an acknowledgment of his accomplishment as a painter. The sense of life evident in Eagan's eyes also suggests both the sitter's and the painter's shared interests in the arts. Eakins employs the light source to illuminate Eagan's face in the same manner that light is used to reveal inner strength and character in other works by the artist, such as Edith Mahon (Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Massachusetts). Eagan's face glows with a sense of empathy and humanity, qualities which Eakins championed and which Eagan embodied. The blank background recedes into space and draws the sitter nearer to the viewer, suggesting a closeness and emotional attachment found only in portraits of individuals who knew Eakins well and who shared and appreciated his world view.