Eakins sought, above all, to describe honestly the reality of what he saw, attempting to "peer deeper into the heart of American life." He felt that no formula of ideal beauty could compare with what is real and refused the temptation to see what, according to fashion, he ought to. His portraits were not flattering; they were penetrating and often disappointed his sitters. His painstaking study of anatomy and geometric perspective served his ambition to grasp and define exterior reality in paint, while his remarkable honesty of approach provided him a view of the interior realities of human character. His perception and mode of illumination of the human face are frequently likened to those of Rembrandt.
In a period when many artists were concerned with the exotic or deliberately picturesque, Eakins succeeded in recording the everyday world about him with insight and profound humanity. Eakins revived the art of portraiture in the United States and, through his influence as a teacher, founded a native school of American art, visible in the works of his pupils Henri, Sloan, Glackens, and Sterne, and more recently in the work of new generations of realist painters.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.