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Thomas Eakins' Portrait of Dr. William Thomson

Thomas Eakins (1844-1916), Portrait of Dr. William Thomson, 1906, oil on canvas, John Wilmerding Collection

Dr. William Thomson (1833-1907), a pioneer in the treatment of eye diseases, was the subject of Thomas Eakins’ last full-length portrait. With this oil study for the finished painting (now at the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia), Eakins captured his sitter’s likeness in one of the most empathetic portraits of his career. By the time Eakins asked Thomson to sit for him in 1906, the two men were well acquainted: Eakins had been one of Thomson’s patients for more than a decade, and the two had long shared a fascination with optics and the complexities of vision. Dr. Thomson was one of Eakins’ few contemporaries who knew that the artist was losing his sight. In this full-scale study, Thomson looks directly at the artist. He holds, appropriately, an ophthalmoscope, an instrument used to examine the interior of the eye. This portrait remained in Eakins’ studio until his death in 1916.

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