Sunday, September 30, 2007
A subtly explicit painting
click to enlarge
Kathrin by Thomas Eakins
1872, Oil, 62.75in (1.59m) x 48.25in (1.22m)
Kathrin Crowell was the sister of Thomas Eakins' school days friend and brother in law Will Crowell. In 1874 they were engaged but did not set a date. Some have speculated that Eakins wanted to establish himself before taking on the responsibility of marriage. However, apparently, progress was slow and she died in 1879. There is other speculation about their relationship but nothing definitive.
This was his first major portrait although it isn't thought to have ever been exhibited during his life. Notable is that it is a candid portrait. It isn't a stiff "someone sitting in a chair looking important while they get their portrait painted" sort of portrait. It is a brief moment of her life. She isn't looking at the viewer nor to the right or left. She is looking down with her face in shadows. My instincts say that her face is in shadows because he saw a technical challenge and wanted to show that he could.
Like many (maybe all) of Eakins' portraits he does not idealize or try to make pretty. I don't know how she felt about that. I suspect she would have wanted him to paint her as a beautiful, pink tinted angel. He studied in Paris under Jean-Leon Gerome, notable pinup artist of the 19th century, and likely had the ability but chose to paint a plain, rough reality.
In a letter to his sister in 1868 he wrote "If I ever marry it will likely be with a girl of southern feeling good impulses & heart healthy & able to bear strong beautiful children" When I first read that I thought it sounded a little strange but then i realized I'm not sure what someone should be looking for. (btw in the book there was no comma. I'm not sure if was looking for a girl of "southern feeling good impulses" (I'm not exactly sure what that would mean) or a girl with "southern feeling and good impulses")
Oh, why is this an explicit painting? Take another look at it. She is fanning her self while toying with a kitten in her lap. Or to put it another way : She is getting hot as she plays with her pussy (meow!). Yes, pussy really was a slang term used during the 1800s. I don't know if that was his intent or I have a dirty mind.