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Wyeth Lecture in American Art 2009: Minstrelsy "Uncorked": Thomas Eakins' Empathetic Realism

Recorded on November 4, 2009, this podcast presents the fourth Wyeth Lecture in American Art, a biennial event hosted by the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts and supported by the Wyeth Foundation for American Art. Richard J. Powell focuses on Thomas Eakins (1844–1916) as uniquely empathetic among the many 19th-century artists who depicted African American performance and entertainment. Eakins' Negro Boy Dancing (1887; Metropolitan Museum of Art) shows a young banjo player, an elderly teacher, and an adolescent dancer, evoking the American rage for the form of musical theater known as minstrelsy. Eakins' watercolor, along with two oil-on-board studies at the National Gallery of Art, challenged the tendency of minstrelsy to employ racial ridicule and physical exaggeration. Instead, Powell argues, Eakins adhered to a painterly realism as well as his own brand of empathy and ethics.