Thomas Eakins: Photographer

Thomas Eakins' early adoption of the new art and science of photography changed his career, and the course of American figurative art

The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) presents Thomas Eakins: Photographer, in honor of the centenary of Eakins' death. 

This exhibition of over 60 photographs, sculpture, and paintings by Thomas Eakins (1844-1916) touches on many issues of representation, gender, and sexuality that are as relevant today as they were provocative when they were made. Known primarily as a painter, Eakins taught and exhibited at PAFA, and is inextricably linked with its history, and with innovative artistic practices in 19th century America.

This exhibition will tell the story of how his early adoption of the new art and science of photography changed Eakins’ career, as well as the course of American figurative art. In 1985, PAFA acquired a collection of over 600 photographic prints and negatives from one of Thomas Eakins’ students, Charles Bregler. On view for the first time in a generation, this trove of images forms the core of this exhibition that tells the story of how Eakins’ utilization of this new art form altered his career. These works provide an opportunity for the public to examine in detail for the first time the depth of Eakins’ involvement with photography – as collector of a wide range of formal portraits of himself, 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. 

Beyond a comprehensive examination of a single artist’s work, Thomas Eakins: Photographer presents an opportunity 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.

Two installations in PAFA's Morris Gallery, Cassils and Fernando Orellana: His Study of Life, will complement the exhibition.


Community Education Programs

Thomas Eakins, Photography and Cassils: Three Dialogues
December 3, 1:00 p.m.


Press Coverage

Newsworks: Photos Show the Other Side of Thomas Eakins

Sponsors