Thomas Eakins is widely considered one of the great American painters, an artist whose uncompromising realism helped move American art from the Victorian era into the modern age. He is also acclaimed as a paragon of integrity, one who stood up for his artistic beliefs even when they brought him personal and professional difficulty—as when he was fired from the Pennsylvania Academy of Art for removing a model's loincloth in a drawing class.
Yet beneath the surface of Eakins's pictures is a sense of brooding unease and latent violence—a discomfort voiced by one of his sitters who said his portrait "decapitated" her. In Eakins Revealed, art historian Henry Adams examines the dark side of Eakins's life and work, in a startling new biography that will change our understanding of this American icon. Based on close study of Eakins's work and new research in the Bregler papers, a major collection never fully mined by scholars, this volume shows Eakins was not merely uncompromising, but harsh and brutal both in his personal life and in his painting. Adams uncovers the bitter personal feuds and family tragedies surrounding Eakins—his mother died insane and his niece committed suicide amid allegations that Eakins had seduced her—and documents the artist's tendency toward psychological abuse and sexual harassment of those around him.
This provocative book not only unveils new facts about Eakins's life; more important, it makes sense, for the first time, of the enigmas of his work. Eakins Revealed promises to be a controversial biography that will attract readers inside and outside the art world, and fascinate anyone concerned with the mystery of artistic genius.
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"The most extraordinary biography I have ever read on an artist."—Andrew Wyeth
"At last a biography that brings fully to life the creator of American art's most astonishing works. Until this point the Thomas Eakins iconography has been staid and housebroken. Henry Adams' book breaks from that tradition brilliantly."—Jamie Wyeth
"With a wealth of fresh documentation and the page-turning momentum of a detective story, Henry Adams has uncovered the Gothic world of Eakins's private and public biography, a scandalous mixture of insanity, incest, suicide, and exhibitionism. But more important, he has woven this sinister story into new and deeper readings of Eakins's work, creating a seamless interpretation of how life is transformed into art."—Robert Rosenblum
"Adams has probed more deeply than anyone thus far. One need not agree with all his conclusions to recognize that he has made Eakins a far more provocative and compelling artist than we knew before.... This new biography of Eakins may impact our understanding of the artist the way Fawn Brodie's biography of Thomas Jefferson changed our view of the author of the Declaration of Independence. It's no longer possible to see Eakins as a simple American hero or to ignore the dark shadows that shaped his life."—Bonnie Barrett Stretch, ArtNews
"In this cogent, exhaustive, and daring reconsideration, a galvanizing work inspired by his immersion in a long-lost, still little-studied cache of Eakins' papers, Adams portrays the painter as a man grievously damaged by childhood traumas, and presents explicit evidence of Eakins' exhibitionism, voyeurism, and underdeveloped sexuality.... Adams' meticulous, frequently audacious arguments and bold...psychological interpretations of Eakins' arresting and enigmatic paintings and photographs are as well crafted as they are incendiary, and this no-holds-barred deconstruction of an American icon will both outrage and intrigue readers as it sparks debate not only about Eakins but also about the symbiosis between art and life."— Booklist
"Adams...has reexamined the evidence of the artist's life and art and found a hidden world of insanity, incest, suicide, and exhibitionism. In Eakins Revealed, he challenges the work of nearly every previous writer on Eakins.... All of this adds up to a critical bull's eye for the author."—Joseph Phelan, The Washington Times
"Adams has a fresh take that he works out with rigor and care. He links evidence for sexual trauma in Eakins's childhood to evidence of subsequent episodes of violence and sexual misconduct in a manner that is neither prurient nor moralizing. He displays a great affinity for, and astute observations of, the work itself, which includes some of the most strikng American paintings of the late 19th and 20th centuries."— Publishers Weekly
Henry Adams is Chair of the Department of Art History at Case Western Reserve University. An award-winning art historian, he is the author of more than 200 publications on American art, including books, exhibition catalogues, and scholarly and popular articles. He collaborated with Ken Burns on a PBS documentary about the painter Thomas Hart Benton.
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