THE EARLY REALISM OF THOMAS EAKINS (1844-1916) AND WINSLOW HOMER ( 1836-1910) TWO AMERICAN ARTISTS WHO WOULD BRING GENRE PAINTING AND PORTRAITURE TO THE ATTENTION OF THE AMERICAN PUBLIC. AN APPRECIATION OF AMERICAN REALIST ART FROM THE 1860’s-1900’s:PART 2.

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In part 2 of the exploration of Eakins and Homer’s art I will concentrate in depth on the massive contribution that Thomas  Eakins gave to American realist Art. Continuing Matthew Baigell’s commentary who shows how the French experience in art is reflected by both artists in their work.

” Eakins studied at the Ecole des Beaux -arts in Paris from 1866-1869 with Jean Leon Gerome”. [1].

” From Gerome he learnt to pay attention to detail and precise rendering of form to call attention to the subject rather than to his own technique and to appreciate Genre scenes”. [2].

Eakins was involved in painting outdoor scenes particularly of his friends rowing.

” In the early years of that decade he painted several outdoor scenes especially of friends rowing on the Schuylkill river. his other Genre paintings both in Oil and watercolour tended towards character studies rather than story-telling incidents”. [3].

” In his most famous early painting ‘Max Schmitt in a single scull’ Eakins had not reached full maturity. the trees at the left appear to be the result of meticulous outdoor studies. The limpid sky  and precisely rendered figures owe more to Gerome than Velasquez”.[4].

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“Eakins use of lush resonating gazing pigments reached a climax in the middle and late 1870’s in works such as ‘The Gross Clinic’. it is a brilliant revelation of the inner person suggesting an ideal of intellectual and emotional qualities, rather than a concern for outer poise or rank”.[5].

The influence of photography which had been developed since 1839 may have had an effect on how Eakins used his paint and used a more colourful palette to the painting.

” Perhaps Eakins turning to Photography in 1880 helped provide an alternative to the brown colours in which he bathed these paintings by calling attention to lighter tones and sharp focussing”. [6].

” Eakins’s strength is his extraordinary ability to extract from his subjects in full length and in portrait busts delicate and multi-layered nuances of feeling” .[7].

Eakins in his portraiture managed to extract from the sitter a sense of isolation and alienation.

” In  place of the well assured smiles of mid-century sitters and even the other wordly glance of Washington Allston’s young women Eakins most often captured a sense of alienation and isolation as if his figures were transfixed by deep psychological pain”. [8].

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Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836-1910)  Boys in a Pasture

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As you can see from these images Eakins was fascinated by the physical aspect of the Human Body he loved displaying naked men and women.

” Eakins was fascinated with the human form. He often used sporting events such as boxing and rowing to capture the nude in action”.[9].

” As a teacher he caused an uproar by insisting that his art students should draw from the nude. he had travelled in Europe and was influenced by the Spanish realists Diego Velasquez and Juseppe Ribera”. [10].

Eakins was a past master at using light and dark to accentuate his exhibits similar to the old Dutch masters of Rembrandt and Hals.

” He often exploited the effects of light and dark to produce a feeling of Drama such as Rembrandt had”. [11].

Commenting on Winslow Homer’s painting ‘Breezing up’ the Art book considers this as  authentic country life surrounded by boats and the sea.

” His work is considered the most authentic expression of American country life in the 1860’s and 1870’s. the small boat is registered in Gloucester Massachusetts , a small town on the new England Coast that was popular amongst artists”. [12].

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The Art book continues with its discussion of Homer’s art.

” Although Homer’s choice of subject matter and his honest representation of the world around him is sometimes compared to the work of the contemporary French Impressionists he was never directly influenced by them”. [13].

Here the Art Book commentary hits the nail on the head both Homer and Eakins like the Hudson School were realists more in the tradition of Gustave Courbet, Jean Francois Millet and Corot. Manet , Monet, Sisley and others were the Impressionists. It must  be understood that a Realist paints  the external world and an Impressionist who uses the surface and only paints what is in his head and imagination and not presented to him in the actual material world . Courbet is reputed to have replied when asked why he didn’t paint an Angel . His reply was ‘that I have never seen an Angel’

” With Thomas Eakins Winslow Homer is considered the leading American representative of Naturalism , the realistic depiction of the contemporary World”. [14].

” However Homer’s stormy sea scapes were also heavily influenced by the work of the earlier artists including JMW Turner and his paintings of storms at sea”. [15].

” His works can be compared with dark and sketchy stormy seascapes of Homer’s American Contemporary”. [16].

In American Art published by Flame tree publishing there are suggestions that Homer could be compared with Albert Pinkham Ryder. In another article I will discuss the role of Ryder and the other Tonalists who I consider have a different perspective and are not realists in the true sense of the word.

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susan eakins self portrait

” Thomas Eakins was very much a supporter of masculine , physical activities and in 1899 he produced one of the classic boxing paintings between rounds. here Eakins particularly focused upon Boxing as a spectator sport-equating it with theatrical events”. [17].

Ann Lee Morgan in her wide ranging dictionary of American art and artists offers an incisive commentary on Eakins. I must say that this Dictionary is an excellent dissection of American art. It describes in detail and provides  the  History of American Art. I can only commend this excellent publication as a very useful guide to American art .

Commenting on Thomas Eakins Morgan has this to say about him. ” His complex and sometimes contradictory nature perhaps accounts for the depth of human feeling encountered in his work”. [18].

” The ‘Champion Single sculls (Max Smitt in a single scull). the underlying geometry of the composition imparts classical stability and supports the meditative  poetry of a moment in time”. [19].

Discussing Homer Morgan considers him a very unusual person with a very independent outlook as an artist.

” In general however Homer however remained a unusually independent artistic personality. Homer emphasised his subjects well being with pleasurable even ornamental colour and design”. [20].

This concludes my discussion of Thomas Eakins and Winslow Homer two outstanding realists who emerged in the 1860’s and 1870’s. They very much complement the Realism of Courbet , Millet and Corot.

FOOTNOTES

  1. A CONCISE HISTORY OF AMERICAN PAINTING AND SCULPTURE: MATTHEW BAIGELL. PG. 138
  2. DITTO .PG.139
  3. DITTO. PG.139
  4. DITTO.PG.139
  5. DITTO.PG.139
  6. DITTO.PG.139
  7. DITTO.PG.139
  8. DITTO.PG.139
  9. THE ART BOOK.PG.146
  10. DITTO.PG.146
  11. DITTO.PG.146
  12. DITTO. PG.227
  13. DITTO.PG.227
  14. DITTO.PG.227
  15. AMERICAN ART FLAME TREE PUBLISHING.PG.238
  16. DITTO.PG.238
  17. DITTO.PG.102
  18. THE OXFORD DICTIONARY OF AMERICAN ART AND ARTISTS: ANN LEE MORGAN. PG. 136
  19. DITTO.PG.136
  20. DITTO.PG.227-8

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2 thoughts on “THE EARLY REALISM OF THOMAS EAKINS (1844-1916) AND WINSLOW HOMER ( 1836-1910) TWO AMERICAN ARTISTS WHO WOULD BRING GENRE PAINTING AND PORTRAITURE TO THE ATTENTION OF THE AMERICAN PUBLIC. AN APPRECIATION OF AMERICAN REALIST ART FROM THE 1860’s-1900’s:PART 2.”

    1. Thanks Paul, you are a star I intend to cover the History of American art up to Stuart Davis and abstraction. when I come to discuss American Renaissance Art I will be discussing Pinkham Ryder with some others who you might like , again thanks Laurence

      Liked by 1 person

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