Thomas Eakins (1844-1916) is widely recognized today as the most mature and powerful American portraitist of his time, yet for much of his life he failed to achieve popular and critical success.
The last phase of Eakins' career, from 1900 until his death on June 25, 1916, is viewed by many art historians as a coming to terms with and summing up of his life. Throughout his career, financial support from his father allowed Eakins to paint what he liked, and, in his later work, he mainly painted noncommissioned portraits of the intellectuals who interested him: distinguished men and women scientists, artists,
clergy, and physicians. His strong ties to the medical profession are attested to by the fact that he executed more than 20 portraits of physicians. Among his most impressive portraits are those of John Hill Brinton, MD, founder of the Army Medical Museum (JAMA cover, October 16, 1987), and Horatio C. Wood, MD, a prominent Philadelphia physician specializing in “nervous diseases”
(JAMA cover, June 15, 2005), in addition to the group portraits, The Gross Clinic (1875)
(JAMA covers, November 16, 1964, and July 15, 1983) and The Agnew Clinic (1889) (JAMA cover, May 23/30, 1986). Although largely neglected by the public, Eakins had a loyal group of friends and former students who appreciated his role as the foremost realist painter in 19th-century American art. Shortly before his death, there was a small flurry of prizes, honors, and recognition of his work by the public and critics. Eakins' Portrait of Dr William Thomson (cover), an evocative painting of a noted Philadelphia ophthalmologist, was the last full-length portrait he painted.