The Writing Master

Artist: Thomas Eakins (American, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1844–1916 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

Date: 1882

Medium: Oil on canvas

Dimensions: 30 x 34 1/4 in. (76.2 x 87 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: John Stewart Kennedy Fund, 1917

Accession Number: 17.173


The sitter is the artist's father, Benjamin Eakins (1818–1899. He was the son of Alexander Eakins, who emigrated from Ireland with his wife Frances and established himself as a weaver. Benjamin was born on a farm in what is now Schuylkill Township, near Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. As a young man, he went to Philadelphia and became a writing master, teaching the old copperplate style of calligraphy in the city's schools and engrossing deeds, diplomas, and other documents. In 1843, he married Caroline Cowperthwait, a daughter of a Quaker cobbler, and in 1857 they moved to 1729 Mount Vernon Street, where he spent the rest of his life. Benjamin Eakins encouraged his son to become an artist and served as his model on several occasions. This picture was first shown at the annual exhibition of the Society of American Artists in New York in 1883, where it was received with mixed reviews.