Overview

Baby at Play is the final work in a series of intimate portraits of family and friends created by Eakins between 1870 and 1876. The painting depicts the artist's two–and–a–half–year–old niece, Ella Crowell. Dressed in an intricately embroidered white frock, her legs clad in red–and–white striped stockings, the child is soberly absorbed at play.

According to one recent interpretation, Eakins was depicting Ella's initial foray into the adult world of education and learning. Having temporarily cast aside her more infantile toys in favor of alphabet blocks—the tools of language—the child now seems ready to enter the next critical stage in her intellectual development.

The monumentality of her painted form may seem surprising, considering the diminutive stature of Eakins' model. Her life–sized figure is arranged in a stable pyramidal block at the composition's center and the deft handling of light and shadow further emphasizes spatial volume. Eakins' choice of a lowered vantage point encourages the spectator to adopt a child's point of view. His penetrating psychological insight elevates this picture from a sentimental genre scene to a highly serious portrayal of an earnest, intelligent child.

Inscription

lower right on brick pavement: Eakins / 76

Marks and Labels

null

Provenance

Mrs. William J. Crowell, the artist's sister, Avondale, Pennsylvania; her son, James W. Crowell, Claremont, California; (M. Knoedler & Co., New York); sold May 1954 to John Hay Whitney [1904-1982], Manhasset, New York; deeded 1982 to the John Hay Whitney Charitable Trust, New York; gift 1982 to NGA.

Exhibition History

1935
American Painting, M. H. de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco Palace of the Legion of Honor, 1935, no. 100, repro.
1936
Thomas Eakins 1844-1916: A Retrospective Exhibition of His Paintings, The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1936-1937, no. 1, as Child Playing.
1939
Exhibition of Paintings by Thomas Eakins, Kleemann Galleries, New York, 1939, no. 17.
1944
A Loan Exhibition of the Works of Thomas Eakins 1844-1944 Commemorating the Centennial of His Birth, M. Knoedler and Co., New York, June-July 1944, no. 12.
1944
A Loan Exhibition of the Works of Thomas Eakins 1844-1944 Commemorating the Centennial of His Birth, Wilmington Society of the Fine Arts, Delaware, October 1944, no. 12, repro.
1948
19th and 20th Century European and American Art, Des Moines Art Center, Iowa, June-July 1948, no. 34.
1948
Romantic America, Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts, Ohio, October-November 1948, no. 11, as Child with the Blocks.
1949
Homer, Eakins, Ryder, Inness and Their French Contemporaries: A Loan Exhibition of Famous Paintings from Foremost American Museums and Collectors, Fort Worth Art Association, Texas, 1949, no. 21, repro.
1956
Pictures Collected by Yale Alumni, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, 1956, no. 67.
1960
The John Hay Whitney Collection, Tate Gallery, London, 1960-1961, no. 26.
1961
Thomas Eakins: A Retrospective Exhibition, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; The Art Institute of Chicago; Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1961-1962, no. 22.
1970
Thomas Eakins Retrospective Exhibition, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1970, no. 25, repro.
1982
Thomas Eakins: Artist of Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1982, no. 7.
1983
The John Hay Whitney Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1983, no. 69, repro.
1987
A Proud Heritage: Two Centuries of American Art [inaugural exhibition], Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, 1987, not in cat.
1993
Thomas Eakins (1844-1916) and the Heart of American Life, National Portrait Gallery, London, 1993-1994, no. 14, repro.
1998
Gifts to the Nation from Mr. and Mrs. John Hay Whitney, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1998-1999, no cat.
2001
Thomas Eakins: American Realist, Philadelphia Museum of Art; Musée d'Orsay, Paris; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2001-2002, pl. 18.
2006
Young America: Childhood in 19th-Century Art and Culture, Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts, Stanford; Smithsonian Am. Art Mus., Washington, D.C.; Portland (Maine) Mus. of Art, 2006-2007, not in cat. (shown only in Washington and Portland)

Bibliography

1930
Goodrich, Lloyd. "Thomas Eakins, Realist." Pennsylvania Museum Bulletin 25 (March 1930): 18, no. 17, as Baby at Play on the Floor.
1933
Goodrich, Lloyd. Thomas Eakins: His Life and Work. New York, 1933: 169.
1939
Barker, Virgil. "Imagination in Thomas Eakins." Parnassus 11 (November 1939): repro. 10.
1944
Ormsbee, Thomas Hamilton. "American Realist Painter." American Collector 13 (July 1944): repro. 6.
1946
McHenry, Margaret. Thomas Eakins, Who Painted. Privately printed for the author, Oreland, Pennsylvania, 1946: 100.
1959
Porter, Fairfield. Thomas Eakins. New York, 1959: repro. 24.
1961
_The John Hay Whitney Collection. Exh. cat. Tate Gallery, London, 1961: no. 26.
1967
Schendler, Sylvan. Eakins. Boston, 1967: 70, repro. 71.
1971
Moynihan, Rodrigo. "The Odd American." Art News 69 (January 1971): 51-52, repro. 50.
1974
Hendricks, Gordon. The Life and Work of Thomas Eakins. New York, 1974: 111, pl. 20.
1982
Goodrich, Lloyd. Thomas Eakins. 2 vols. Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1982: 1:79, color repro. 78.
1982
Sewell, Darrel. Thomas Eakins: Artist of Philadelphia. Exh. cat. Philadelphia Museum of Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Philadelphia, 1982: 10, repro. 11.
1983
Rewald, John. The John Hay Whitney Collection. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1983: no. 69.
1984
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 553, no. 841, color repro.
1985
Prown, Jules David. "Thomas Eakins' Baby at Play." Studies in the History of Art 18 (1985): 121-127, repro. 125.
1986
Parry, Ellwood C., III. "Some Distant Relatives and American Cousins of Thomas Eakins's Children at Play." The American Art Journal 18 (1986): 21-41, repro. 21.
1987
Fried, Michael. Realism, Writing, Disfiguration: On Thomas Eakins and Stephen Crane. Chicago, 1987: 22, 77, repro. 26.
1988
Wilmerding, John. American Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art. Rev. ed. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1988: 130, no. 42, color repro.
1988
Wilmerding, John. "America's Young Masters: Raphelle, Rembrandt, and Rubens." In Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr. Raphaelle Peale Still Lifes. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia. Washington, D.C., 1988: 89-90, repro.
1991
Kopper, Philip. America's National Gallery of Art: A Gift to the Nation. New York, 1991: 292, color repro.
1991
Wilmerding, John. American Views: Essays on America Art. Princeton, 1991: 338 n. 50.
1992
_American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 165, repro.
1992
Homer, William Innes. Thomas Eakins: His Life and Art. New York, 1992: 91, 93, color repro. 92.
1992
_National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 242, repro.
1993
Wilmerding, John, et al. Thomas Eakins (1844-1916) and the Heart of American Life. Exh. cat. National Portrait Gallery, London, 1993: 25, 64, note 1, 82-83, repros. 24 (detail), 82.
1996
Kelly, Franklin, with Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr., Deborah Chotner, and John Davis. American Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part I. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1996: 162-167, color repro.
2004
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 312, no. 252, color repro.

Technical Summary


[1] On the reverse, a paper label, written in ink and graphite (probably by Charles Bregler), reads: "canvas rebacked, & varnished with Mastic Jan. 1932." Similar labels are affixed to the portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Louis Husson [1952.2.1 and 1952.2.2].

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