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William Rush Carving His Allegorical Figure of the Schuylkill River

Thomas Eakins, American, 1844 - 1916

Made in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States, North and Central America


Oil on canvas (mounted on Masonite)

20 1/8 × 26 1/8 inches (51.1 × 66.4 cm) Framed: 29 9/16 × 32 5/16 inches (75.1 × 82.1 cm)

Curatorial Department:
American Art

* Gallery 118, American Art, first floor (Provident National Bank Gallery)

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Gift of Mrs. Thomas Eakins and Miss Mary Adeline Williams, 1929

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When Eakins exhibited this painting, first at the Boston Art Club in January 1878 and later that year at the Society of American Artists in New York, it created some controversy. A New York reviewer wrote: "What ruins the picture is much less the want of beauty in the model (as has been suggested in the public prints) than the presence in the foreground of the clothes of that young woman, cast carelessly over a chair. This gives the shock which makes one think about the nudity—and at once the picture becomes improper."

Additional information:
  • PublicationPhiladelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections

    In this canvas Thomas Eakins shows William Rush carving one of his many public sculptures--an allegorical figure of the Schuylkill River done in 1808 for Philadelphia's first waterworks. Other works by Rush, including a life-sized figure of George Washington and his Allegory of the Waterworks (on view in the Museum), are visible in the dim background of the shop and constitute a survey of the venerable artist's career. Eakins made this painting just as he was beginning his years at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts as a charismatic but controversial teacher, notorious for his insistence on the study of the nude as the basis for all art. It is highly unlikely that Rush had employed a nude model for his draped figure, but in this exquisite historical fabrication Eakins employs the impeccable reputation of the distinguished Philadelphia sculptor to justify his own practices. The unidealized but sympathetically observed and beautifully painted figure of the nude woman stands as a manifesto of Eakins's beliefs about the goal of art. Darrel Sewell, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections (1995), p. 287.

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