Swimming Toward Paradise


“…There is always somebody, when we come together, and the edges of meeting are still sharp, who refuses to be submerged; whose identity therefore one wishes to make crouch beneath one’s own…”

 

The Waves

Virginia Woolf

 
 

779px-Eakin's_art_studens_bathing_3Eakin’s Art Studens Bathing in Dove Lake,Philadelphia, 1883

 
 

Landscape sketch

 
 

Final sketch

 
 

The Swimming Hole (also known as Swimming and The Old Swimming Hole).

 
 

The young men float on their backs, their white bellies bulge to the sun, they do not ask who seizes fast to them,

They do not know who puffs and declines with pendant and bending arch,

They do not think whom they souse with spray.
 

Excerpt from Song of Myself

Walt Whitman

 
 

Before starting to paint The Swimming Hole (1884-85), Thomas Cowperthwaite Eakins took some photographs and made some studies, a very usual method for him. Eakins made the oil as a commission by Edward Hornor Coates, a Philadelphia businessman who chaired the Committee on Instruction at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where Eakins taught, but at the end of the day, he rejected to acquire the painting. As luck would have it, this is maybe his most famous piece of art, an American Arcadia.
 
In Swimming, Eakins depicts six male nude figures on and near an outcropping of rock at the edge of a remote lake, four of them on the rocky ledge itself, reminiscent of figures on a Greek pediment. Eakins is indeed shown swimming toward the outcropping to join the others–or, as New York magazine critic Mark Stevens‘s fanciful musing would have it, “swimming toward paradise from the darker edge.”
 
Like Stevens, Sanford Schwartz, a professor of English at Penn State, makes much–too much– of the naked male bodies in Swimming, calling the painting “a love song to male beauty” in which Eakins conveys “an ardent heroizing desire yet with no trace of lasciviousness.” The painting, in his view, “presents a sense of physical adoration” in which “an older man [Eakins] is seen swimming toward the men on or near the rocks,” giving it a “sexual and narrative tension.” “Being appreciated, at a particular instant, by a singular older man, these beautiful young swimmers become individuals themselves,” he asserts. The painting, Schwartz continues, does not “necessarily reveal that Eakins . . . harbored homosexual longings he couldn’t otherwise express,” and, in any case, “the painter’s actual sexual orientation . . . isn’t the issue.”

 
 

Ancestor:
 

Scene d’Été / Les Baigneurs (Summer Scene /Bathers). Frédéric Bazille, 1869.

It is not unlikely that Eakins saw the painting at the Salon while studying in Paris, and would have been sympathetic to its depiction of male bathers in a modern setting.

 
 

Successor:
 

Forty-two Kids. George Bellows, 1907

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Swimming Toward Paradise

  1. Dear Genealogist
    What a sublime piece!There is such a long ancestry of water and the arts from the bathing houses of Athens to The Dream of the Rood, through to Byron’s medicinal bathing and Dickens’ love of the sea to our dear late departed Dame Iris Murdoch – and that is just the writers.
    The swimming culture amongst the painterly and sculpture types – well Venus and her clam shell to the pointillist banks of the Seigne.
    May, how the Dandy does go on…
    Quite superb, quite quite superb.
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

    Like

    • You are a very well informed dandy.
      Thanks a lot for your comment.!
      It brings out information i didn’t mention
      You are welcome to express your opinions anytime you want 😀

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s