Admission is always free Directions

Open today: 10:00 to 5:00

Overview

Thomas Eakins made his career portraying upper-middle class residents of his native Philadelphia. Such depictions are anything but static likenesses; instead they show individuals engaged in their chosen profession or avocation, whether at the city's rivers and parks, in its surgical amphitheaters, or in its public and private performance venues, as in Singing a Pathetic Song.

This evocative depiction of the home musicale—popular in Victorian America generally, and in Eakins' own household in particular—exemplifies the artist's unidealized renderings of his contemporaries as well as his love of music. An earnest young singer accompanied by a pianist and cellist in a richly decorated interior concentrates on holding a note of her tune. The pathetic song, the most popular type of melody in 1860s and 1870s America, told tales of woe, such as death or tragic circumstances befalling innocent women or children. Recited by the singer as autobiographical, such ballads commonly moved audiences to tears. 

A leading art critic of the day called the work "admirably painted, and . . . absolutely true to nature, a perfect record of the life amid which the artist lives." The painting remained in Eakins's collection until late 1885, when Edward Hornor Coates, a trustee of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (where Eakins taught), asked to exchange it for his Swimming (1885, Amon Carter Museum), a commissioned painting whose depiction of the artist and his male students posed nude in a landscape was both unexpected and controversial.

Inscription

lower left: Eakins. / 1881

Provenance

Purchased 1885 from the artist by Edward Hornor Coates, Philadelphia; his son-in-law and dealer, (John E.D.Trask, New York); purchased 20 October 1919 by the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington; acquired 2014 by the National Gallery of Art.

Exhibition History
1881
Fourth Annual Exhibition, Society of American Artists, March-April 1881, no. 21, as Lady Singing a Pathetic Song.
1881
Ninth Cincinnati Industrial Exposition, Art Department, September-October 1881, no. 60.
1882
Fifty-third Annual Exhibition, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, 1882, no. 110.
1883
Brooklyn Art Guild, January 1883.
1883
Internationale Kunst-Austellung, Königlicher Glaspalaste, Munich, July-October 1883, no. 519, as SIngendes Mädchen.
1884
Twelfth Annual Exhibition, Art Hall, Inter-State Industrial Exposition of Chicago, 1884, no. 147, as Pathetic Song.
1906
Sixth Exhibition of the International Society of Sculptors, Painters, and Gravers, New Gallery, London, 1906, as The Pathetic Song.
1917
Memorial Exhibition of the Works of the Late Thomas Eakins, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, 1917-1918, no. 119, as The Pathetic Song.
1932
American Painting and Sculpture, 1862-1932, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1932-1933, no. 30, as The Pathetic Song.
1934
A Century of Progress Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture, Art Institute of Chicago, 1934, no. 393, as The Pathetic Song.
1935
American Genre: The Social Scene in Paintings and Prints, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, March-April 1935, no. 29, as The Pathetic Song.
1935
American Painting and Sculpture of the 18th, 19th, and 20th Centuries, Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, January-February 1935, no. 20, as The Pathetic Song.
1936
Exhibition of American Genre Paintings, Department of Fine Arts, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, 1936, no. 33, as The Pathetic Song.
1949
De Gustibus: An Exhibition of American Paintings Illustrating a Century of Taste and Criticism, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 1949, no. 25, as The Pathetic Song.
1952
Great Portraits by Famous Painters, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 1952, no. 43, as The Pathetic Song.
1955
The One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary Exhibtion, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, 1955, no. 90, as The Pathetic Song.
1957
Painting in America: The Story of 450 Years, Detroit Institute of Arts, 1957, no. 138, as The Pathetic Song.
1958
Thomas Eakins, 1844-1916: Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture, American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, 1958, no. 17, as The Pathetic Song.
1959
Loan Exhibition. Masterpieces of the Corcoran Gallery of Art: A Benefit Exhibition in Honor of the Gallery's Centenary, Wildenstein, New York, 1959, unnumbered catalogue, repro., as The Pathetic Song.
1961
American Painting, 1865-1905, Art Gallery of Toronto; Winnipeg Art Gallery Association; Vancouver Art Gallery; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, January-June 1961, no. 20, as The Pathetic Song.
1961
Thomas Eakins: A Retrospective Exhibition, National Gallery of Art, Washington; Art Institute of Chicago; Philadelphia Museum of Art, October 1961-March 1962, no. 40, as The Pathetic Song (shown only in Washington).
1966
Past and Present: 250 Years of American Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 1966, unnumbered checklist, as The Pathetic Song.
1967
Triumph of Realism: An Exhibition of European and American Realist Paintings, 1850-1910, Brooklyn Museum; Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond; California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, 1967-1968, no. 82, as The Pathetic Song (shown only in Brooklyn).
1970
19th-Century America: Paintings and Sculpture, The Metropoliltan Museum of Art, New York, April-September 1970, no. 156, as The Pathetic Song.
1970
Thomas Eakins Retrospective Exhibition, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, September-November 1970, no. 37, as The Pathetic Song.
1974
The Painter's America: Rural and Urban Life, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Oakland Museum, 1974-1975, no. 35, as The Pathetic Song (shown only in New York).
1976
Corcoran [The American Genius]. Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 1976, unnumbered catalogue, as The Pathetic Song.
1981
Of Time and Place: American Figurative Art from the Corcoran Gallery, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington; Cincinnati Art Museum; San Diego Museum of Art; University of Kentucky Art Museum, Lexington; Hunter Museum of Art, Chattanooga; Philbrook Art Center, Tulsa; Portland Art Museum, Oregon; Des Moines Art Center; Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, FL, 1981-1983, no. 21, repro., as The Pathetic Song.
1983
A New World: Masterpieces of American Painting, 1760-1910, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington; Grand Palais, Paris, 1983-1984, no. 99, as The Pathetic Song.
1985
Henri's Circle, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985, no catalogue, as The Pathetic Song.
1993
The Century Club Collection, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, July-September 1993, unpublished checklist.
1993
Thomas Eakins and the Heart of American Life, National Portrait Gallery, London, October 1993-January 1994, no. 21, as The Pathetic Song.
1996
Thomas Eakins and the Swimming Picture, Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington; Brandywine River Museum; Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, 1996-1997, unnumbered catalogue, as The Pathetic Song.
2001
Thomas Eakins, Philadelphia Museum of Art; Musée d'Orsay, Paris; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2001-2002, unnumbered catalogue.
2004
Figuratively Speaking: The Human Form in American Art, 1770-1950, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 2004-2005, unpublished checklist.
2005
Encouraging American Genius: Master Paintings from the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Parrish Art Museum, Southampton; Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte; John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, 2005-2007, checklist no. 47.
2008
The American Evolution: A History through Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 2008, unpublished checklist.
2009
American Stories: Paintings of Everyday Life 1765-1915, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2009-2010, no. 27
2013
American Journeys: Visions of Place, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 21 September 2013-28 September 2014, unpublished checklist.
Bibliography
1947
Corcoran Gallery of Art. Handbook of the American Paintings in the Collection of the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Washington, 1947: 50, repro. 51, as The Pathetic Song.
1959
Corcoran Gallery of Art. Masterpieces of the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C., 1959: 57, repro.
2011
Cash, Sarah. "Thomas Eakins, Singing a Pathetic Song." In Corcoran Gallery of Art: American Paintings to 1945. Edited by Sarah Cash. Washington, 2011: 154-157, 270, repros.