The Opera Singer
33.3 cm x 26.5 cm (13 1/8 in. x 10 7/16 in.)
(Philadelphia, 1844 - 1916, Philadelphia)
North America, American
Medium and Support:
Oil on board
Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, Gift of Caroline Crowell, M.D., 1964
In this study, Thomas Eakins paints a female opera singer who turns to consider a classical statue. An interchangeable symbol for the modern artist, Eakins’ singer asserts that the human being, in all its physical and psychological complexity, should remain the ultimate source of artistic inspiration.
The Opera Singer and the verso, Untitled (Woman on balcony waving white handkerchief), appear to be preliminary sketches for other paintings. Whereas many painters perform preparatory drawings for their works, Eakins preferred to sketch directly in paint. Eakins believed that painting and drawing require fundamentally different ways of seeing; an artist should not use one to arrive at the other.
While European innovation would change the course of American art, offering new and exciting routes for expression, Eakins’ legacy of deep looking—at the human body, face, character—sits at the very beginning and, indeed, the very heart of American modernism.