Whitman’s Birthday Suit

“Censorship is always ignorant, always bad: whether the censor is a man of virtue or a hypocrite seems to make no difference: the evil is always evil. Under any responsible social order decency will always take care of itself. I’ve suffered enough myself from the censors to know the facts at first hand.”
Walt Whitman

 
 

Walt Whitman’s Birthday Suit by Thomas Eakins, 1885

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Better Than the Oils

“I find I often like the photographs better than the oils—they are perhaps mechanical, but they are honest. The artists add and deduct: the artists fool with nature. . . . I think I like the best photographs best.”

He would often comment about how photography was part of an emerging democratic art, how its commonness, cheapness, and ease was displacing the refined image of art implicit in portrait painting: “I think the painter has much to do to go ahead of the best photographs.”

 “They have photographed me all ages, sizes, shapes: they have used me for a show-horse again and again and again.”

Walt Whitman

 
 

 Portraits of Walt Whitman by Thomas Eakins

Fashion and The Ephemeral

“There are so many strong women that I’m surrounded by, but as strong as they are, there’s a lot of fragility in them, and I wanted to capture this.”

Haider Ackermann

 
 

Haider Ackermann’s Fall 2013 Show. Photography: Kevin Tachman.

 
 

Marey wheel photographs of unidentified model, c.1884, Thomas Eakins

 
 

“I am aware of our ephemeral passage…”
 
Virginia Woolf

The Waves

 
(Virginia Woolf noted in her diary that she was considering The Ephemeral as the title for her book. She ultimately decided upon The Waves)

Bear Pond on a Gold Day

Bear Pond (Little, Brown and Company, 1990)

 
 

“Toward evening find a silent shuttered room.
Sit or lie; let your eyes slide shut.
Your heart slows; your mind will likely race –
A smear of pictures, leering sideshows, tunes,
Bodies you’ve tasted, geeks, your private crimes –
All ways to bribe you from the dare you take,
this risk of a trek toward home, a healing journey.
But coax your lidless inward eye to find
The place where you knew broad serenity…”

“. . . Around one man, the perfect Earth
Unfolds one final day —
The golden day I find and dream to keep. “

Gold Day
Reynolds Price

 
 

 
 

Bear Pond showcases 100 photographs taken by Bruce Weber. They were shot in upstate New York Adirondack Lakes region and the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State. The wilderness landscape, the study of male body in a primal state of grace and Richard Price’s poetry take us back to Walt Whitman and Thomas Eakins ideal of life.

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