I would have them taught facts and things, rather than words and signs.
—Stephen Girard, 1831
My honors are misunderstanding, persecution & neglect, enhanced because unsought.
—Thomas Eakins, 1894
At first blush, the realism of Thomas Eakins seems an unpromising method for probing psychology. His method was an empiricism of almost clinical ruthlessness, grounded in anatomical study, dissection, and the photographic investigation of posture and movement. He did not banter charmingly with his sitters in order to coax lively expressions from them, as Sargent did, preferring to work in silence and look for those truths that cannot be pried out by conversation. It is difficult to imagine an artistic method more likely to drain a painting of all content beyond the purely physical and mechanical. And yet Eakins, surely America’s most prosaic painter of...