Rocking the Boat

Thomas Eakins retrospective

Best known for his paintings of rowers on Philadelphia's Schuylkill River (such as Max Schmitt in a Single Scull), Thomas Eakins (1844-1916) merged a distinctly American sensibility with his European training to also depict artisans and families. A retrospective opening October 4 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art explores Eakins' work in oil, watercolor, drawing, sculpture, and photography. The artist's unflinching eye often scandalized still-inhibited America. Critics lambasted Gross Clinic, a portrait of surgeons in an operating amphitheater, as well as his detail of a model's clothes strewn haphazardly as she posed for sculptor William Rush. The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts fired Eakins for providing his students with nude models. Undaunted, he maintained his European aesthetic. At the Prado, he praised Spanish works as being "so strong . . . so free from every affectation," and strove for the same himself.