Portrait of Thomas Eakins
Susan Macdowell Eakins, American, 1851 - 1938
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Susan Macdowell met Thomas Eakins in 1876, shortly before she enrolled in classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Years later, she described meeting her future husband at the Haseltine Gallery, where the exhibition of The Gross Clinic was "causing quite a commotion" in Philadelphia. A talented artist, she won several prizes in the Academy's annual exhibitions, and exhibited in 1879 and 1880 with the Philadelphia Society of Artists. After she married Eakins in 1884, she largely put aside her artistic ambitions, although she did take up photography. She returned to painting after her husband's death, and this intimate portrait, believed to have been based on one of her photographs, is one of her finest works.
Susan Macdowell Eakins was a fierce advocate for her husband during and after his lifetime, and it is largely through her efforts to establish his reputation that Eakins's art made its way into major public collections. In 1929, she and a family friend, Mary Adeline Williams, gave to the Philadelphia Museum of Art a large collection of work by Eakins. Ranging from student sketches and early sporting subjects to masterful late portraits, their gifts included many studies, which the donors believed would be of special interest to other artists and students. Thanks to their generosity, which has inspired related gifts over the years, the Philadelphia Museum of Art has the richest collection of Thomas Eakins's work in the world. The Pennsylvania Academy, where Eakins studied and taught-and where his example continues to inspire students today-received a splendid group of Eakins's studies, photographs, and other materials from the collection of Charles Bregler in 1985.
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