Thomas Cowperthwait Eakins long has been considered one of America’s outstanding artists, the foremost realist of the nineteenth century. He was born in Philadelphia, his lifelong residence. After high school he entered the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts while also studying anatomy at Jefferson Medical College. In 1866 he went to Paris for three years, where he attended the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, and studied with the painters Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824 -1904) and Léon Bonnat (1833 -1922) and the sculptor A. A. Dumont (1801-1884). During the winter of 1869-70 he painted and studied old master canvases in Seville and Madrid.
Returning to Philadelphia, Eakins painted outdoor sporting scenes and the first of his ambitious portraits of professional men. For the country’s centennial exposition he painted a powerful portrait of Dr. Samuel Gross, known as The Gross Clinic, 1875 (Medical College of Jefferson University, Philadelphia), which was removed from the art exhibition and transferred to the medical exhibit because its forceful realism was considered objectionable. After the mid-1880s portraiture was to occupy the artist’s chief attentions, although he painted a series of sporting pictures near the end of the century.
He was influential as an instructor, at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts from 1873 to 1886 and after that for six years at the Art Students League of Philadelphia. He married the artist Susan Macdowell in 1884. Eakins painted little after his health began to fail in 1910.
Gerald M. Ackerman, "Thomas Eakins and His Parisian Masters: Gérôme and Bonnat," Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 6th ser., 73 (April 1969): 235-56 § Gordon Hendricks, The Life and Work of Thomas Eakins (New York: Grossman, 1974), with bibliography, illustrated checklist of works in public collections by location § "Thomas Eakins" issue, Arts 53 (May 1979): with essays by Lloyd Goodrich, Evan Turner, John Wilmerding and others, pp. 96-160 § Lloyd Goodrich, Thomas Eakins, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Studies in American Art, 2 vols. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press for the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1982), with chronology, bibliography § Elizabeth Johns, Thomas Eakins: The Heroism of Modern Life (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1983), with bibliography.