Thomas Eakins, a native of Philadelphia, painted two worlds: one sure of its values -- the surgeons, inventors, musicians, and athletes of his time -- and another that reflected his own struggles with depression and sexual identity. In this evenhanded account of those struggles, William S. McFeely sheds new light on Eakins's genius and on the evocative melancholy of his portraits, particularly of women, which include many of his remarkable wife, Susan McDowell Eakins. Those deeply perceptive paintings may be the greatest expressions of his art.
One of America's leading historians, McFeely has long been an interpreter of nineteenth-century American writing. A fascinating aspect of this narrative is how he brings the painter into the company of Thoreau, Melville, and Whitman, with whom Eakins formed a deep friendship. The famous painting Swimming, for example, is likened to Walden, Typee, and to passages in Leaves of Grass.