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1886-Painter Thomas Eakins resigns from Philadelphia Academy of Art after controversial over use of male nudes in a coed art class

February 13, 2023

On February 13, 1886, painter Thomas Eakins resigned from Philadelphia's prestigious Academy of Fine Arts after a controversial disagreement over his use of male nudes in a coed art class.

Who is Thomas Eakins?

Thomas Eakins was an American realist painter who gained notoriety for his vivid and accurate depictions of everyday life in Philadelphia and its surroundings. He is known as one of the earliest artists to paint urban life in an American city. He received his training at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, where he rose through the ranks to become a professor.

Controversy Around Male Nudes

Eakins was ahead of his time when it came to using male nudes in education–he believed that studying anatomy was essential for any artist's development. Unfortunately, this view did not go over well with the conservative academy board members. When it came time for him to teach coed classes, he refused to take any other approach than what he thought necessary for students to be able to comprehend complex topics such as perspective and proportion. This led him into a heated disagreement with several members of the board, which ultimately resulted in his dismissal from the Academy on February 13, 1886.

The Aftermath

While some viewed Eakins as a radical individual who pushed boundaries too far, others held him up as an admirable figure who fought for artistic integrity and freedom. His reputation as a groundbreaking artist has remained intact since then, and he continues to be celebrated today by many prominent figures, including President Barack Obama, who called him "one of America's greatest artists" during remarks made at the 2014 White House Correspondents Dinner.

The controversy surrounding Thomas Eakins's dismissal from the Academy may have been forgotten if it wasn't for one courageous act – but it will always serve as a reminder that sometimes pushing boundaries can lead to great things!


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