National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of The Biglin Brothers Racing Thomas Eakins (artist)
American, 1844 - 1916
The Biglin Brothers Racing, 1872
oil on canvas
overall: 61.2 x 91.6 cm (24 1/8 x 36 1/16 in.) framed: 74.9 x 105.7 x 5.4 cm (29 1/2 x 41 5/8 x 2 1/8 in.)
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney
1953.7.1
On View
From the Tour: Homer and Eakins: American Painters in the Late 1800s
Object 2 of 8

In the decade following the Civil War, rowing became one of America’s most popular spectator sports. When its champions, the Biglin brothers of New York, visited Philadelphia in the early 1870s, Thomas Eakins made numerous paintings and drawings of them and other racers. Here, the bank of the Schuylkill River divides the composition in two. The boatmen and the entering prow of a competing craft fill the lower half with their immediate, large-scale presence. The upper and distant half contains a four-man rowing crew, crowds on the shore, and spectators following in flagdecked steamboats.

Himself an amateur oarsman and a friend of the Biglins, Eakins portrays John with his blade still feathered, almost at the end of his return motion. Barney, a split-second ahead in his stroke, watches for his younger brother’s oar to bite the water. Both ends of the Biglins’ pair-oared boat project beyond the picture’s edges, generating a sense of urgency, as does the other prow jutting suddenly into view.

The precision of Eakins’ style reflects his upbringing as the son of a teacher of penmanship. He studied under academic artists in Paris and traveled in Europe from 1866 to 1870. To further his understanding of anatomy, Eakins participated in dissections at Philadelphia's Jefferson Medical College in 1872-1874.

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