Books by Cheryl Leibold

Released: Dec. 1, 1994

This examination of American realist painter Thomas Eakins's little-known photographs—mostly graphic nudes taken between 1880 and 1900—has a timely provocative edge. In 1985, a trove of Eakins's photographs was acquired by the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. This Charles Bregler collection comprised some three-quarters of the artist's output in the medium. Cataloging the material are Danly (curator of American Art, Mead Art Museum, Amherst College) and Leibold (archivist, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts). The package includes essays by able academics; a central portfolio of meticulously reproduced plates; and extensive annotations. After studying in France, Eakins (18441916) returned to his native Philadelphia with an interest in photography. The authors examine the private nature of his photographs, how they were used mostly for study purposes, not for exhibition. Essayist Elizabeth Johns (Art History/Univ. of Pennsylvania) suggests that Eakins used photography to explore a realm of ``fantasy'' absent from his coldly objective paintings. Much is made of Eakins's dismissal as director of instruction at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1886 for using a male nude model with female students. In the ``naked series,'' the artist, his wife, and his students pose nude or draped in classical robes. In one, the bearded and frontally nude Eakins cradles a languid naked woman student in his outstretched arms, the two heroically lit by a central shaft of light cutting through the stark studio setting. Plein air studies of young men swimming au naturel are shown to have served as studies for Eakins's 1883 masterpiece, The Swimming Hole. And extensive motion studies analyze figures in stop-action. Though dryly dissected by a bevy of stiff academics, Eakins's photographs still have the power to shock. With the current debates over the ``pornographic'' works of contemporary photographers Robert Mapplethorpe, Andres Serrano, and David Wojnarowicz, it's revealing to have a strong antecedent reexamined. (173 b&w photos, 52 duotones, 16 tritones) Read full book review >