Thomas Eakins and the Cultures of Modernity is the first book to situate Philadelphia's greatest realist painter in relation to the historical discourse of cultural difference. Alan C. Braddock reveals that modern anthropological perceptions of "culture," attributed to Eakins by many art historians, did not become current until after the artist's death, in 1916. Braddock demonstrates that Eakins's realistic portrayals of Spanish street performers, African Americans, and southern European immigrants embodied a premodern worldview. Yet by exploring Eakins's struggle to visualize diversity amid the dislocating forces of his day—mass immigration, orientalism, tourism, commercial publishing, and the international circulation of ethnographic objects—this book illuminates American art on the threshold of the twentieth-century "culture concept" promulgated by Franz Boas and other modern anthropologists.
Introduction: “This Current Confusion”: Thomas Eakins before Cultures
1 “Amongst Strangers”: Studies in Character Abroad
2 “What Kind of People Are There”: Local Color, Cosmopolitanism, and the Limits of Realism
3 “To Learn Their Ways That I Might Paint Some”: Cowboys, Indians, and Evolutionary Aesthetics
Coda: “Distinctly American Art”: Thomas Eakins, National Genius
List of Illustrations
Alan C. Braddock is Assistant Professor of Art History, Temple University.
“In this fascinating study, Alan Braddock considers how recent work dating the emergence of cultural pluralism to the early twentieth century changes the way we understand an important artist like Thomas Eakins. It argues that in championing Eakins as a keen sympathizer with minority 'cultures' in the United States, art historians fall prey to a serious anachronism. Braddock presents a major revision not only of Eakins, but of the intellectual and geographic contours of 'American' realism's encounter with the modern world.”—Brad Evans, Rutgers University
“Braddock's book searches out a number of fresh historical contexts for understanding Eakins's work and his sense of himself in relation to his perceptions of the shifting world around him. The author's unflinching appraisal of how Eakins's major paintings participate in the late nineteenth-century discourse of race and culture is richly supported as he evokes the social and intellectual terrain of Eakins's Philadelphia.”—Kathleen Pyne, author of Modernism and the Feminine Voice
“Alan Braddock's sensitive, intelligent, and probing book is a breath of fresh air. It looks closely at Eakins's paintings and situates them in the material world of late-nineteenth-century Philadelphia, where demographic changes were making the variety of human aspects and customs increasingly conspicuous, and in the intellectual world of the time, where a shift in thinking about race and culture was underway. This book brings nagging, heretofore inchoate problems into focus, and resolves them convincingly. It is stimulating and gratifying reading.”—Michael Leja, author of Looking Askance: Skepticism and American Art from Eakins to Duchamp