Thomas Eakins, one of America's greatest painters, is considered a Philadelphia institution -- as a painter of prominent Philadelphians, rowers on the Schuylkill River and famed surgeons (The Gross Clinic and The Agnew Clinic) and as the Director of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts' School where he was dismissed for insisting on allowing students to paint fully nude models.
For the first time, visitors will exam New Jersey’s influence on Eakins with an exhibition, “Thomas Eakins in New Jersey,” through June 27 at the John F. Peto Studio Museum in Island Heights, right off Route 37 between Toms River and Seaside Heights.
Eakins sought inspiration at his family boathouse on the river in Cumberland County, the adjacent marshes and riverbanks of Gloucester County and at the homes of friends and colleagues on the Manasquan River, Point Pleasant and the Jersey Shore.
The exhibition shows how Eakins, Edward Boulton, Charles Bregler from Asbury Park and others experimented with the camera along the Delaware River and in Point Pleasant where Boulton moved in 1893. Despite numerous photographs taken in the 1880s and 1890s on Squan Beach, their work was ignored by collectors. Most of the print and original plates stayed in the Boulton family for generations and with Bregler who likely printed some of the photos in his Asbury Park studio and who literally scooped photos off the floor of Eakins’ home immediately after the artist’s death in 1916. This exhibition features prints made by Boulton that have never been seen by the public.
In addition to the photographs are several paintings by Boulton and Edmund Quinn.
Although not one of Eakins' disciples, the studio museum’s namesake, John Peto, most probably took classes from Eakins at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Peto would have been very familiar with Eakins’ paintings of New Jersey scenes.
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It's a small exhibition but visitors are also given a guided tour of the restored 19th century house built by Peto. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has designated the studio museum as a place that inspired America's greatest art.
Peto may not be a name that readily comes to mind alongside Thomas Eakins or contemporaries such as John Singer Sargent. It wasn't until 1949 that an art scholar revealed that 19 of Peto's paintings in major art collections had been wrongly attributed --- his signature erased -- to his more famous fellow Philadelphia painter William Harnett. In the past half century, Peto has been given his due for his trompe l'oeil still life paintings often of letter racks holding printed matter, shelves of books, tabletops and doors with hanging musical instruments.
The studio museum has re-opened for the exhibition. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and students and free for members and children 12 and under.
After visiting the museum, make sure to spend time walking through Island Heights, which has the second largest collection of Victorian homes and buildings in the state.