Did you know that Thomas Eakins painted the portraits of many people associated with the 19th-century predecessor institutions of UArts? Those predecessors are the Pennsylvania Museum & School of Industrial Art (PMSIA, founded 1876), the Philadelphia Musical Academy (founded 1870), and the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music (founded 1877).
One of the most interesting is of Portrait of Leslie W. Miller (1901), principal of PMSIA from 1880 to 1920 and a great friend of Eakins. Eakins painted this in Hamilton Hall; look closely and you can see student work hanging on the wall behind the screen. The painter Charles Sheeler was a PMSIA student at the time and describes the painting of the portrait: “… As the artist’s work continued we witnessed the progress of a perspective drawing which was made on paper and then transferred to the canvas… those charts which we knew only too well. This careful procedure led us to the conclusion that the man, whoever he was, couldn’t be a great artist, for we had learned somewhere that great artists painted only by inspiration.” (Sheeler quoted from Goodrich, Lloyd. Thomas Eakins. Harvard University Press, 1982, p. 184-5)
Eakins loved music and painted several notable musicians. Mary Elizabeth Hallock Greenewalt (1871-1951) earned her diploma in piano from the Philadelphia Musical Academy (now the UArts School of Music) in 1893. Best known for her invention of a synchronized light-and-color-producing organ she called the Sarabet, she called her form of music “Nourathar” and obtained eleven U.S. patents for her inventions.
A portrait of Rudolph Hennig, called The Cello Player, was the first painting by Eakins that was purchased by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, but it was recently sold to a private collector. It depicts noted cellist Hennig practicing. Hennig was one of three founders of the Philadelphia Musical Academy, and was the Philadelphia Orchestra’s original first cellist.
Hedda van den Beemt, who came from Holland to join the Philadelphia Orchestra, served on the faculty of the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music (now the UArts School of Music) and was head of the violin department until his death in 1925. Eakins’ portrait of van den Beemt is simply called Music.
All work by Thomas Eakins, American, 1844-1916.
Portrait of Leslie W. Miller. 1901. Oil on canvas. Gift of Martha Page Laughlin Seeler in memory of Edgar Viguers Seeler, 1932. 1932-13-1. Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Mrs. Mary Hallock Greenewalt. 1903. Oil on canvas. Wichita Art Museum, Roland P. Murdock Collection. M61.45. Courtesy of the Wichita Art Museum.
The Cello Player [portrait of Rudolph Hennig]. 1896. Oil on canvas. Private collection.
Music [portrait of Hedda van den Beemt]. 1904. Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY.