Thomas Eakins

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Date: 1844-1916

Region: North America

Subject: Nudity

Medium: Painting


"The Gross Clinic"

Artist: Thomas Eakins

Confronting Bodies: Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Centennial Exhibition, Philadelphia Sketch Club, Academy Art Club

Dates of Action: 1875, 1886

Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Description of Artwork: Eakins' first major canvas, "The Gross Clinic", was subject to censorship. The work is a disturbingly realistic portrayal of a dissection, down to the blood on the surgeon's hands. The piece shows Eakins' interest in science and technology.

The Incident: "The Gross Clinic" was considered "too bold". The painting was refused admission into the American section of the Centennial Exhibition. Later it was admitted to the medical section, where it was received unfavorably. Eakins' passion for realism also got him fired from many teaching jobs. In 1886 Eakins was a professor of painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. During one of the classes Eakins removed the loincloth from one of the male models during a lecture that included female students. Although the school gave life drawing classes with nude models for women, this was a co-ed class, where it was not permitted. The school said that he must be more respectful of modesty or resign. Eakins resigned, feeling that women should not be shielded from the male anatomy. Some of Eakins' other practices--such as encouraging students to model nude for each other in private classes and requiring the students to take part in dissections could have also led to him being pushed out of the Philadelphia art world. Eakins had also taught at the Philadelphia Sketch Club and the Academy Art Club, both of which he was also soon expelled from.

Results of Incident: Eakins stopped painting during the year of 1886 and did not resume again until the summer of 1887. He limited his painting to portraits. His teaching career was over by the time he was fifty.

Source: Censorship: A World Encyclopedia