Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Inspiring Artists - Henri on Eakins

I just got a new book, The Art Spirit, by Robert Henri - an American painter who taught and influenced lots of other American painters. It contains lots of little gems like: " There are pictures that manifest education and there are pictures that manifest love." Or "If in your drawings you habitually disregard proportions you bcome accustomed to the sight of distortion and lose critical ability. A person living in squalor eventually gets used to it."

I love his conviction. He was said to have been immensly charming in life and his writing draws me in 90 years after his death. I love how he bridges the gulf between expressive, emotive painting and accurate, classical painting.

Anyway - Henri writes a nice little essay on one of my favorite artists - Thomas Eakins. I thought I'd devote a blogpost to the essay and to some of Eakins work.

(oh, I love this portrait, oh, I love this portrait, oh I love this portrait)
The exhibition of the works of Thomas Eakins at the Metropolitan Museum should be viewed and studied by every student and, in fact, every lover of the fine arts.
Thomas Eakins was a man of great character. He was a man of iron will and his will was to paint and to carry out his life as he thought it should go. This he did. It cost him heavily, but in his works we have the precious result of his independence, his generous heart and his big mind.
Eakins was a deep student of life and with a great love he studied humanity frankly. He was not afraid of what this study revealed to him.
In the matter of ways and means of expression--the science of technique--he studied most profoundly as only a great master would have the will to study. His vision was not touched by fashion. He cared nothing for prettiness or cleverness in life or in art. He struggled to apprehend the constructive force in nature and to employ in his works the priciples found. His quality was honesty. "Integrity" is the word which seems best to fit him.
Personally, I consider him the greatest portrait painter America has produced. Being a great portrait painter, he was, as usual, commissioned to paint only a very few. But he had friends and he painted his friends. Look at thse portraist well. Forget for the moment your school, forget the fashion. Do not look for the expected and the chances are you will find yourself, through the works, in close contact with a man who was a man, strong, profound, and honest, and, above all, one who has attained the reality of beauty in nature as it is; who was in love with the great mysterious nature as manifested in man and things, who has no need to falsify to make romantic, or to sentimentalize to make beautiful. Look, if you will, at the great Gross Clinic picture for the real stupendous romance in real life,

(sketch for Gross Clinic)

and at the portrait of Miller for a man's feeling for a man. This is what I call a beautiful portrait; not a pretty or a swagger ortrait, but an honest, respectful, appreciative man-to-man portrait.

But I have no intention to specify. I simply ask you to look. I expect the pictures to tell you, if you can but see them from out of yourselves, and I expect them to fill you with courage and hope.
Eakins many years ago taught in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and in those days it was an excitement to hear his pupils tell of him. They believed in him as a great master, and there were stories of his power, his will in the pursuit of study, his unswerving adherence to his ideals, his great willingness to give, to help, and the pleasure he had in seeing the original and worthy crop out in a student's work. And the students were right, for all this character you will find manifest in his work. Eakin's pitures and his sculptures are the recordings of a man who lived and studied and loved with a strong heart."
- Robert Henri - from the Art Spirit

This last drawing was included with reference to the Pennsylvania Academy. In those female nude models had to be blindfolded - somehow this made it acceptable in Victorian times. Eakins got in a lot of trouble for unblinding the models and allowing female students to study nude models etc. (as I remember it, sorry not to have taken the time to research to share the exact details...)
Anyway, I find him terribly inspiring.

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