Posted: March 14, 2007
In the March 29 issue of the New York Review of Books, Mellon Professor of English and Five College Fortieth Anniversary Professor Christopher Benfey reviewed three biographies of artist Thomas Eakins.
In "Three Ways of Looking at Thomas Eakins," Benfey examined three very different portraits of the artist, including Henry Adams's Eakins Revealed: The Secret Life of an American Artist; The Revenge of Thomas Eakins, by Sidney D. Kirkpatrick; and Portrait: The Life of Thomas Eakins, by William S. McFeely.
The recent publication of a trove of documents, letters, photographs, and candid interviews with Eakins's associates has contributed to increased speculation about the artist's life, as reflected in the new books.
Benfey wrote: "One might have thought that so much new biographical data would have helped to resolve any lingering debates surrounding Eakins's life, personality, and achievement. But three recent biographies--one by a writer on crime, one by a distinguished historian, and one by a respected specialist in American art--suggest the opposite. It is unsettling to read the books in succession, for they seem to describe three quite different men: a happily married heterosexual; a closeted homosexual married to a lesbian; and a neurotic victim of incest who felt compelled to remove his clothes in public. It is difficult to think of a parallel case of such divergent accounts of a well-known life."