On this day: Thomas Eakins’ homoerotic The Swimming Hole


homoerotic Thomas Eakins the swimming hole

Thomas Eakins’ homoerotic The Swimming Hole, painted in 1884-85, continues to attract the accolades now that the artist never received during his lifetime. Thomas Eakins painted the masterpiece from 1884-85 and died on June 25, 1916.

Art critic Tom Lubbock called The Swimming Hole a classic of American painting.

“It shows a scene of healthy, manly, outdoor activity: a group of young fellows having stripped off for a dip. It is based on the swimming excursions that were enjoyed by the artist and his students. Eakins himself appears in the water at bottom right—in signature position, so to speak.”

Therein lies the homoerotic appeal, for many inspiring fond reminiscences of skinny-dipping during their youth.

Eakins took an interest in the male nude early in life. he told his father as much in a letter home while studying in Paris.

The female nude “is the most beautiful thing there is in the world except a naked man, but I never yet saw a study of one exhibited… It would be a godsend to see a fine man model painted in the studio with the bare walls…”

Thomas Eakins returned to America and became an accomplished art teacher in Pennsylvania. However, he later resigned in disgrace. Eakins had removed the loincloth from an otherwise nude male model during a class that included female students.

The resultant scandal followed him all his life. Although he found other teaching work, he again removed a loincloth from a male model in the presence of female students in 1895. This time, he was sacked.

Thomas Eakins’ sexuality

Eakins’ sexuality remains a subject of conjecture. He took a wife at the age of 40 but the marriage remained childless. Some believed he only married to replace his recently deceased sister who previously acted as his personal assistant.

Eakins and his wife remained together until his death. But in his later years, he spent much of his time with his protege, the handsome sculptor Samuel Murray, described as the artist’s ‘constant companion’.

NSFW – NUDITY: A nude study of Samuel Murray, photographed by Eakins in his studio.

The Swimming Hole

The Swimming Hole by Thomas Eakins.

Eakins was a pioneer of using photography to inform his paintings. He studied the motion of the human body in moving pictures and also painted from tracings or projections of photographed models. His exacting depictions of human anatomy continue to impress with special attention lavished on his renditions of male buttocks in The Swimming Hole.

The painting shows Eakins himself in a self-portrait along with friends and young adult male students nude at a swimming hole half a mile from the college where the artist taught as a professor.

A photograph discovered in 1973 shows three of Eakins’ friends nude on a platform, possibly setting the pose for the reclining figure in the painting.

NSFW – NUDITY: An 1883 Eakins photograph of three nude men on a platform.

Other surviving photos show Eakins’ students skinny-dipping at the same location as the painting.

NSFW – NUDITY: Eakins’ students skinny-dipping.

Before we go, another homoerotic masterpiece from Eakins and the photograph it seems based on.

Thomas Eakins painting Wrestlers.

And a photo attributed to Eakins of wrestlers in a similar pose.

Read also: On this day June 24: Mass murder, the Utrecht sodomy trials

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