Press Release

PAFA Presents Thomas Eakins: Photographer

PAFA Presents Thomas Eakins: Photographer

Rarely-seen photographs, along with paintings and sculpture, on view in exhibition honoring centenary of Eakins' death

October 20, 2016 - January 29, 2017

 Press preview: Wednesday, October 19, 11 a.m.

PHILADELPHIA (September 26, 2016) -- The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) presents Thomas Eakins: Photographer, an exhibition honoring the centenary of Eakins' death and presenting over 60 rarely-seen photographs as well as sculptures and paintings by Eakins and his circle. The exhibition is on view October 20, 2016 through January 29, 2017 at PAFA, 118 North Broad Street in Philadelphia.

Known primarily as a painter, Eakins (1844-1916) taught and exhibited at PAFA and is inextricably linked with its history -- and with innovative artistic practices in 19th-century America that squarely confronted codes of gender and propriety in teaching and art making. Thomas Eakins: Photographer touches upon issues of representation, gender, and sexuality that are as relevant today as they were provocative when they were made.

"The exhibition will allow the public to examine in detail the depth of Eakins' involvement with photography: as collector of a wide range of formal portraits of himself; through informal images that he made of his family and friends; and his determined exploration, both scientific and artistic, of the nude figure, landscapes, and portraits," says Anna Marley, PAFA Curator of Historical American Art and curator of the exhibition with guest curator Susan Danly.

Thomas Eakins: Photographer tells the story of how Eakins' early adoption of the new art and science of photography changed his career, as well as the course of American figurative art. 

"On the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of Thomas Eakins' death, this exhibition invites us to reflect on his innovations in photography and educating artists. His impact on PAFA, the Philadelphia art world, and American art is profound," says David R. Brigham, PAFA President and Acting Museum Director.

PAFA acquired a collection of over 600 photographic prints and negatives in 1985 from Charles Bregler, one of Eakins' students. On public view for the first time in a generation, this trove of images forms the core of this exhibition.

Beyond a comprehensive examination of a single artist's work, Thomas Eakins: Photographer seeks to engage audiences with photography as an art form, both historically and in the present day. The inclusion of reproductions from Eakins' photographic plates will allow visitors to understand the notion of artistic intent - something not well understood within the medium of photography and which many still see as a more of a mechanical process than one shaped by an individual artistic vision.

Many of the photographs in the exhibition were taken at PAFA by Eakins and his circle, while other images are from idyllic areas in the Philadelphia suburbs, and from Eakins' home at 1729 Mount Vernon Street in the city's Fairmount neighborhood.The exhibition is divided thematically into five sections:

  • Photography and Eakins' Teaching Practice documents the practice of professional models, and even Eakins and his students, posing unclothed for the camera. Designed as a freeing and experimental learning experience of the human form and notions of gender and community, it nonetheless contributed to his forced resignation from PAFA in 1886.
  • The Nude Outdoors details Eakins' inspiration for his art and teaching in classical Greece that inspired him to photograph himself and his male students swimming and playing pipes, evoking the classical theme of Arcadia - a harmonious vision of life in nature.
  • Photography and the Past suggests how his interest in American history informed his differing attitudes toward masculine and feminine creativity and discusses his participation in a revival of popular interest in the colonial past and Philadelphia history.
  • Intimate Portraits - Family and Friends reveals the people, animals, and places that sustained Eakins following his controversial tenure at PAFA, and highlights the diversity of the new medium of photography in Philadelphia at the turn of the century.
  • Portraits of Thomas Eakins presents an evolving picture of Eakins over his lifetime through numerous photographs he accumulated of himself, taken as self portraits, by commercial photographers, family, and friends.

Thomas Eakins: Photographer is supported by Judy Glickman Lauder, and the Mapplethorpe Foundation. Additional support provided by the Newington-Cropsey Foundation, Charles Isaacs Photographs, NY, and Bob Boris and Linda Seyda.

Complementing the exhibition during its run are two installations by contemporary artists in PAFA's Morris Gallery: Fernando Orellana: His Study of Life (through November 6), and Cassils (opening November 19). Orellana's installation utilizes nude figure models, Eakins' own palette and brushes, robotic machines, and life models in an effort to summon the ghost of Eakins. Cassils' installation will employ performance and photography to examine and re-define the gendered nature of the human body.


Founded in 1805, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) is America's first school and museum of fine arts. A recipient of the 2005 National Medal of Arts, PAFA is a recognized leader in fine arts education with a world-class permanent collection of American art.

Last Updated
October 19, 2016 - 12:40 PM

About PAFA

Founded in 1805, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is America's first school and museum of fine arts. A recipient of the National Medal of Arts, PAFA offers undergraduate and graduate programs in the fine arts, innovative exhibitions of historic and contemporary American art, and a world-class collection of American art. PAFA’s esteemed alumni include Mary Cassatt, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Thomas Eakins, William Glackens, Barkley L. Hendricks, Violet Oakley, Louis Kahn, David Lynch, and Henry Ossawa Tanner.