Competitive Canvases: Thomas Eakins’ Sporting Lives

Thomas Eakins

The opportunity to reassess a major artist doesn’t come along very often, which is why Manly Pursuits: The Sporting Images of Thomas Eakins excites.

For those who don’t know the name, Thomas Eakins (1844-1916) is considered one of the greatest American painters in our relatively short history. Eakins was somewhat unique in his ability to take classical motifs and approaches and make them remarkably contemporary—so much so that his canvases still scream with life, 100+ years later.

While the sports represented in the new Los Angeles County Museum of Art exhibition (through October 17), including rowing swimming, sailing, hunting, equestrian events, boxing and wrestling, were not his only subjects, the topic is significant because he treated it with a classless, respectful approach in the era when professional sports were just beginning to coalesce (remember the first modern Olympics were held in 1897). In 2006, his most famous painting The Gross Clinic was purchased for $68 million (a record price for an individual American portrait) by donors who wanted to keep it in his hometown of Philadelphia, where it will be displayed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. A prolific portraitist, he undoubtedly influenced later realists like Norman Rockwell. According to the LA Times, the last time he had a major exhibition in LA was 1927.

LACMA has two some related sports-themed photo exhibits by LA’s Catharine Opie and Tad Beck also opening. And coincidently, Eakins’ mentor Jean-Leon Gerome has a concurrent exhibit of his own running through September 12 at the J. Paul Getty Museum.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art is located at 5905 Wilshire Boulevard, 323.857.6000

J. Paul Getty Museum is located at 1200 Getty Center Drive, Brentwood, 310.440.7300