The Revenge of Thomas Eakins

First Edition

Sidney D. Kirkpatrick

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Thomas Eakins was misunderstood in life, his brilliant work earned little acclaim, and hidden demons tortured and drove him. Yet the portraits he painted more than a century ago captivate us today, and he is now widely acclaimed as the finest portrait painter our nation has ever produced. This book recounts the artist’s life in fascinating detail, drawing on a treasure trove of Eakins family correspondence and papers that have only recently been discovered.
Never before has Thomas Eakins’s story been told with such drama, clarity, and accuracy. Sidney Kirkpatrick sets the painter’s life and art in the wider context of the changing world he devoted himself to portraying, and he also addresses the artist’s private life—the contradictory impulses, obsessions, and possible psychological illness that fired his work. Kirkpatrick underscores Eakins’s unflinching integrity as an artist and discloses how his profound appreciation of the beauty of the human form was both the source of his greatness and ultimately of his undoing. Nevertheless, the author observes, Eakins has had his “revenge,” inspiring a new generation of realist painters and gaining the recognition that eluded him in life.

Sidney D. Kirkpatrick is a critically acclaimed author and award-winning documentary film producer. His most recent book is Edgar Cayce, An American Prophet.

"Sidney Kirkpatrick's masterful and thoroughly compelling biography of Thomas Eakins is rich with fresh insights and new understandings of an artist who may well be America's finest. Eakins is illuminated in these pages as a man dedicated to his artistic vision despite the myopia of the Victorian era from which he emerged. Kirkpatrick reveals Eakins as brave and lonely, wise and fallible, daring yet focused—not only a majestic figure of his time, but for all time."—Digby Diehl


"Riveting and eloquent—the definitive Eakins biography for this generation. Kirkpatrick reveals the artist in all his brilliant diversity. Here we have the uncompromising master who pioneered American realism, and paid the price for offending the sensibilities of his fickle generation."—Edward J. Renehan Jr., author of Dark Genius of Wall Street


"Kirkpatrick heartily serves the reader a rich broth of artistic, historical, and scientific ideas in Eakins's Philadelphia. Astutely illuminates the creative circumstances behind Eakins's masterpieces. Fresh and rewarding."—Linda Kay Zoeckler, former Head, Huntington Art Reference Library  

"Not content to retell either the familiar narrative of the artist as the beleaguered, innocent victim of prudish Philadelphia or as the disturbed and self-destructive provocateur, Kirkpatrick presents a driven and sympathetic artist who possessed tragic flaws."—Martin Berger, University of California at Santa Cruz

"The strongest and most poignant work on Eakins, replete with surprises, that shows why Eakins has less in common with Sargent, who satisfied socialite portrait clients, and more with Rembrandt and da Vinci, who removed veils from the outer and inner lives of centuries past and far into the future."—Peter Nelson, Art Center College of Design

"Kirkpatrick is a historical detective who unravels the mesmerizing story of the rise, fall, and revenge of Thomas Eakins. He writes in an artful, absorbing style; you will not be able to put down this gripping biography."—Ronald C. White, Jr., author of The Eloquent President: A Portrait of Lincoln Through His Words

“Award-winning filmmaker and best-selling author Kirkpatrick tells the story of Eakins’s turbulent career with dramatic flair. ”

"Like his subject, Mr. Kirkpatrick is relentless in the best sense of the word, dispassionate and objective in a surgically precise way, and yet completely involved, investing his subject with a pathos and grandeur that only the finest biographies attain."—Carl Rollyson, New York Sun


“The book’s value is that it’s a general-interest biography, not a scholarly tome. Kirkpatrick brings Eakins to life as a breathing, sweating, prickly and fascinating man, one a wide audience will appreciate. . . . Rich in details about the history of the time and told in compact, almost cinematic episodes with many illustrations, the book is a page-turner eve though you know the outcome.”—Roberta Fallon, Philadelphia Weekly

“Biographer Kirkpatrick brings the cinematic clarity of a documentary filmmaker to this portrait of Thomas Eakins, the controversial Philadelphia portrait artist. . . . Kirkpatrick’s ability to suggest, through the use of letters and family anecdotes, that Eakins was aware of—and to a degree, fostered—the Byronic attitude that characterized his career is both brilliant and subtle. But most importantly, Kirkpatrick gives Eakins convincing depth that reminds readers of the ways biography can enhance appreciation of art.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"A straightforward, lucid and deliberately unpsychological biography. . . . Kirkpatrick knows how to make a narrative zip along."—Deborah Solomon, New York Times Book Review

"Kirkpatrick presents what is likely to be the definitive work on Eakins. . . . Kirkpatrick's Easkins is a 19th century man in many respects, but an artist driven by his passion, revealed here in a way that will likely surprise and fascinate you. This one's a keeper that I suspect will be thought of as one of the better biographies of 2006 when all is said and done."—Blue Ridge Business Journal

“…a posthumous, too-long-delayed and entirely deserved critical rehabilitation…” - William Packer, Literary Review

“Kirkpatrick…presents the most complete biography of Eakins yet published…[with] abundant detail…” - Elizabeth Johns, The Art Newspaper

"Kirkpatrick's full-scale biography is well-researched and fluently written. It is particularly strong in its descriptions of the inner workings that were so important to Eakins's life, the Pennsylvania Academy in particular."—Christopher Benfey, New York Review of Books

"The book is a full-length biography told in fifty short chapters. . . . It succeeds in giving a detailed and above all balanced picture."—George Fetherling, Seven Oaks

"Kirkpatrick's biography of [Eakins] is a page-turner that offers a balanced perspective of one of America's great portrait artists, making it clear that Eakins had enemies who were out to destroy his reputation."—Sheila Farr, Seattle Times

“This is a splendid warts-and-all re-creation of a life, acutely balanced in its appraisal and, most important, lucidly written. . . . Kirkpatrick’s incisive and dispassionate investigation of such a fascinating, multifaceted life does the artist and his audience a major service.”—Edward J. Sozanski, Philadelphia Inquirer



Chosen as an "Outstanding" title in 2007 by the University Press Books Committee
ISBN: 9780300108552
Publication Date: March 28, 2006
576 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
53 b/w + 42 color illus.