August 29, 2002

HAUNTED BY JAMES :

Great Eakins Exhibit Finally Shows Up-With Nude Swimmers! (Hilton Kramer, August 29, 2002, NY Observer)
The great Thomas Eakins exhibition, which was reviewed here when it opened last fall at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (see The New York Observer for Oct. 15, 2001) has now come to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It hardly needs saying that everyone with an interest in the art of painting will want to see it. Even if you've already seen the exhibition in Philadelphia-or in Paris, where it has been shown in the interim-it's worth revisiting the show at the Met. Some paintings that were not available when the show opened in Philadelphia are now included in the Met's version. One of them is Swimming (1884-85), a painting of nude young men that the literary scholar F.O. Matthiessen once appropriately compared to the frank sexual imagery in Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself."

Eakins' fine portrait of Whitman is also in the exhibition, and the parallel interests that united the painter and the much older poet have frequently been noted. Yet I have sometimes wondered if a very different American writer, Henry James, might not provide an ampler perspective on the famous troubles that Eakins faced in the course of his Philadelphia-bound career.

Thomas Eakins (1844-1916) and Henry James (1843-1916) belonged, after all, to the same American generation. They were, in fact, the greatest artists of that American generation in their respective fields of endeavor. And while neither appears to have taken even the slightest interest in the other's work, they had a lot more in common than is usually recognized.


My two favorites are The Gross Clinic and the fabulous Baseball Players Practicing.
Posted by Orrin Judd at August 29, 2002 8:17 PM
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