Sunday, March 6, 2011

Eakins: A Letter and a Sonnet

     Thomas Eakins was a famous (and to some, infamous) director of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in the 19th century. It is possible that he was a bit of a "dirty old man," but that is hard to be certain about. What is certain is that his frank depictions of "natural" nudity offended Victorian standards of the day; he was eventually dismissed by the Academy, to their great loss. In addition to the sonnet, I am adding a copy of a letter Eakins sent to a committee at the Academy in 1876 regarding obtaining "better" female models for the Life Classes. Thanks to Al Gury for providing a photo-copy of the letter!


A man with honesty out of his time,
He posed his naked students and his own
Proud, aging body.  The Victorian groan
Did not surprise him. He explored the grime
Of life, and found that beauty's rhyme
And prosey truth were often bone of bone
And flesh of naked flesh.  Painting to hone
Truth's blade to carve out Nature's prime
Realities, nobility to truth
A distant second, he held up a glass
Where Nature smiled to see her face reflected.
So rip the loincloth from the posing youth,
And thumb your nose at those who call you crass,
And do not fear to be by fools rejected.

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