Artworks
Elizabeth Crowell with a Dog
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More about Elizabeth Crowell with a Dog

wbillingsley's picture

Contributor

If anyone ever tells you that Thomas Cowperthwait Eakins isn’t the greatest realist painter of all time, just know that you have my permission to light them on fire.

This permission won’t protect you legally, or in any practical sense, however the art world will eternally appreciate you for purging such incorrect notions from existence.

This painting was done at the beginning of Eakins’ career, sometime after he finished his art education in Europe, and what makes it so great is how sharply it contrasts to the work of his teacher, Jean-Léon Gérôme. Gérôme, like a good portion of great european artists, was all about glorification. In addition, Gérôme's work is quintessentially masculine. He paints men and soldiers dressed and posed regally, meanwhile his women don’t exist unless they are nude. Hell, he has one painting that is literally just a cockfight. If you need an example, look no further than the frozen action scene in Police Verso.

Eakins, however, does the exact opposite. Almost none of his subjects are painted with a masculine gaze or framed in an ideal light. Or any light at all in fact, as his work is nearly as shadowy as Rembrant’s. In his nudes (which are mostly men) he seems to go out of his way to highlight saggy skin, boney joints, and the general decay of the human form. This effect was achieved by insistence on drawing other human beings. Where other artists might use plaster casts as models for their work, Eakins stuck to photographs and the people around him. Elizabeth Crowell, for example, is a family friend. With paintings like this one, Eakins established himself as a champion of the art of the everyday and mundane. Here the woman is, no one famous, the biscuit is nothing special, and the dog is not even fully trained. It is almost ugly in how real it is, but that is what makes it so freakin’ good. 

Sources

Sources

  1. McFeely, William “Portrait: The Life of Thomas Eakins” W. W. Norton & Company, 2007 https://books.google.com/books?id=52z_iWuyL-cC&dq=Thomas Cowperthwait Ea...
  2. Oxford Reference. “Overview Thomas Eakins” oxfordreference.com viewed on 08/05/2019 https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803095738...
  3. Russel, John “ART VIEW; Thomas Eakins Ventured Deep Into the Psyche” New York Times 10/24/1993 https://www.nytimes.com/1993/10/24/arts/art-view-thomas-eakins-ventured-...
  4. San Diego Art Museum. “Elizabeth Crowell with a Dog: Label Copy” San Diego Art Museum, viewed on 08/05/2019 http://collection.sdmart.org/Obj2328?sid=278&x=21240&port=2888