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Thomas Eakins’s late portraits, which include this powerful likeness, are among the artist’s most poignant works. Here, Eakins focuses upon the two elements of portraiture traditionally deemed most important: heads and hands. The piercing gaze and the taut, sinewy hands of the aging subject carry the emotional weight of the painting and testify to Eakins’s life-long commitment to portraying the human condition in all its heroism and frailty.

Commissioned from Eakins by the Fidelity Trust Company for $700, this portrait of Fidelity’s president, John B. Gest, has little to do with what one might think of as corporate portraiture: bland, formulaic images of seated, appropriately attired men intended to portray serious-minded, upstanding members of the community. Indeed, Gest performed the role to a T, serving as a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and the Presbyterian Hospital in Philadelphia, in addition to fulfilling his duties at the financial company he served. However, by turning Gest’s gaze away from the viewer, Eakins turns any possible engagement with the sitter into a study and an observation of the visible effects of old age. This portrait reveals the artist’s intense devotion to realism through its truthful accuracy and penetrating portrayal of the subject's character.

Details

  • Title: Portrait of John B. Gest
  • Creator: Thomas Eakins
  • Date Created: 1905
  • Physical Dimensions: w76.2 x h101.6 cm (unframed)
  • Type: Painting
  • External Link: MFAH
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • Credit Line: The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, museum purchase funded by the Agnes Cullen Arnold Endowment Fund

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