(American, 1844 - 1916)
The Honorable John A. Thornton
Oil on canvas, 24 x 30 inches
Signed and dated at upper right: “Thomas Eakins/1903”
John A. Thornton (1862–1936)was born in Philadelphia and educated in the public school system. Although he derived his income from his meat and provisions business and his real estate brokerage, he was most concerned with Philadelphia politics. He was elected to the City Committee from the Twenty Fourth when he was twenty six, in 1907 becoming its chairman. He was elected to a five-year term as police magistrate in 1899, and was appointed city real estate assessor by the Board of Revision of Taxes in 1909. Through the efforts of National Committeeman A. Mitchell Palmer and Congressman J. Washington Logue, in 1913 Thornton’s name was submitted by President Woodrow Wilson for Senate approval for the position of Philadelphia postmaster, the appointment that marked the height of his political career.
About the Artist
(American, 1844 - 1916)
Thomas Cowperthwait Eakins, one of the most famous American artists, was born in Philadelphia, the son of a calligrapher and writing master. He graduated from the Central High School in 1862 and began to take courses at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He also began to attend anatomy lectures at Jefferson Medical College. In 1866 he went to Paris, where he attended the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and studied with the French painter Jean-Léon Gérôme, Léon Bonnat, and the sculptor Augustin Alexandre Dumont. After visiting Spain, Eakins returned to Philadelphia in 1869 and remained there until the end of his life. Eakins began teaching at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1878, where he was appointed professor of painting and drawing the following year. He began to paint scenes of everyday life in Philadelphia, most notably his series of sculling on the Schuylkill River, historical genre subjects, and portraits of local notables. Eakins’s innovative nature and uncompromising realism led to a somewhat embattled existence. His masterpiece, the full-length portrait of Dr. Samuel Gross (1875, shared between the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts), offended Victorian sensibilities because it represented the physician in the midst of performing an operation, with blood dripping from his scalpel. His insistence on having both male and female students paint directly from the nude model engendered a controversy that led to his dismissal from the Academy in 1886. Thereafter the artist led a largely private existence surrounded by his circle of admiring students and painted portraits of friends and local intellectuals for who he felt some affinity. He died in Philadelphia at the age of seventy-one.