Thomas Eakins

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Art, Medicine, and Sexuality in Nineteenth-Century Philadelphia

Amy Werbel


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The life and work of Thomas Eakins (1844–1916), America’s most celebrated portrait painter, have long generated heated controversy. In this fresh and deeply researched interpretation of the artist, Amy Werbel sets Eakins in the context of Philadelphia’s scientific, medical, and artistic communities of the 19th century, and considers his provocative behavior in the light of other well-publicized scandals of his era. This illuminating perspective provides a rich, alternative account of Eakins and casts entirely new light on his renowned paintings.
Eakins’ modern critics have described his artistic motivations and beliefs as prurient and even pathological. Werbel challenges these interpretations and suggests instead that Eakins is best understood as an artist and teacher devoted to an exacting and profound study of the human body, to equality for women and men, and to middle-class meritocratic and Quaker philosophies.

Amy Werbel is professor of fine arts, St. Michael’s College, Colchester, VT. She has studied and written extensively on Thomas Eakins for twenty years.

“Werbel sets Eakins’s career and works . . . into the context of Philadelphia’s late-nineteenth-century scientific, medical, and artistic communities, examining the world in which Eakins produced his work and rationalizing some of his apparently provocative actions. . . . Because it is so rigorous in its challenge to much that is currently fashionable, I suspect it will be a controversial and much discussed book. It is a book that has needed to be written.”—Marc Simpson, Williams College

"This book is not simply a biography of a famous painter but also an exploration of important social issues in Victorian America such as sexism, homosexuality, and the propriety of nudity in art, which gives the book contemporary interest, relevance, and consequence. . . . Readable and enjoyable. Thomas Eakins will be of interest and relevance not only to the medical community but also to art and social historians."—Robert E. Greenspan, New England Journal of Medicine

"Eakins emerges radiantly . . . form Werbel's book, which—thoroughly reliable, eminently readable, and conscientiously informed—is one of the best books available on the great American artist."—Phillip Dacey, Clinical Anatomy

"Meticulous. . . . [An] excellent addition to the Eakins literature. . . . Highly recommended."—Choice

"Superior. . . .  [S]cholars of Philadelphia history and culture will discover an intriguing look at Eakins and the city where he lived and worked."--Karol K. Weaver, Pennsylvania History

Selected by Choice magazine as an Outstanding Academic Title from 2008.
ISBN: 9780300116557
Publication Date: June 29, 2007
208 pages, 8 x 10
53 b/w + 16 color illus.
Thomas Eakins

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Helen A. Cooper; With contributions by Martin A.

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