Fort Washington, Pa.
The painter Thomas Pollock Anshutz was one of the most important American art instructors during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He taught for nearly three decades at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) in Philadelphia, first working as an assistant to Thomas Eakins (1844-1916) and later rising to be the Director of PAFA. Anshutz was born in 1851 in Newport, Kentucky, on the Ohio River near Cincinnati. His family moved to Wheeling, West Virginia sometime around 1863. He moved to Brooklyn in 1871 to study art while living with an aunt and uncle. Little is known about his artistic education until 1873, when Anshutz enrolled in the National Academy of Design in Manhattan. The Academy closed for a year in the fall of 1875, and Anshutz moved to Philadelphia, where he took classes taught by Eakins at the Philadelphia Sketch Club. PAFA’s new building was completed in 1876, Anshutz enrolled there, taking classes from Christian Schussele (ca. 1824-1879). Anshutz worked as an assistant demonstrator in anatomy under Eakins during 1878 and 1879, and was promoted to Chief Demonstrator in 1880 when Eakins was promoted to the position of Professor of Painting and Drawing. During this time Anshutz took summer trips to visit his parents in Wheeling, which inspired him to paint several rural scenes in a realistic style, echoing Eakins. He also made several sketches that culminated in his painting The Ironworkers’ Noontime (1880, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco), thought to be his finest painting, depicting a group of ironworkers on a break outside their factory. Anshutz was appointed a full-time instructor at PAFA in 1881. After his appointment Anshutz’s artistic production diminished, and he did not exhibit at PAFA’s annual exhibitions from 1883 until 1892. By this time Anshutz had become interested in photography. He and Eakins helped Eadweard Muybridge (1860-1904) in his photographic motion studies during 1884. Eakins fell out of favor with the Board of Directors of PAFA during the 1880’s and with the support of younger faculty members (including Anshutz) was forced out of the Academy in 1886. Anshutz then succeeded Eakins as Professor of Painting and Drawing. He married Effie Shriver Russell (1860-1928) in 1892, and decided to leave PAFA to study in Paris, arriving there a few months after their wedding. Anshutz enrolled in the Académie Julian, where his instructors included William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905). Anshutz quickly became disenchanted with his classes and left the school in April 1893. He and Effie stayed in Europe for four months, where he explored Parisian museums, made watercolor paintings, viewed the works of contemporary French artists such as Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947) and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) at the Salon des Indépendants, and traveled to England, Italy and Switzerland. On his return to Philadelphia Anshutz rejoined the PAFA faculty. He pursued plein-air painting and took many photographs that he used in his works. His landscape paintings, watercolors and pastels, while realistic, were clearly influenced by the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works he had seen in France. He also developed a reputation as a portrait painter. His figure study The Tanagra (ca. 1908), won PAFA’s Gold Medal of Honor in 1909, the year he was appointed Director of PAFA. In 1910 Anshutz was elected President of the Philadelphia Sketch Club and a member of the National Academy of Design, but due to coronary disease was forced to resign from PAFA, and he died at his home in Fort Washington, a northern suburb of Philadelphia in 1911. His greatest legacy was his students, including Robert Henri (1865-1929), John Sloan (1871-1951), and William Glackens (1870-1938). (TNB 11/2014) Selected bibliography: Griffin, Randall C. Homer, Eakins & Anshutz: The Search for American Identity in the Gilded Age. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2004. Griffin, Randall C. Thomas Anshutz: Artist and Teacher. Exhibition catalog, with a preface by William Innes Homer. Huntington, N.Y: Heckscher Museum in association with the University of Washington Press, Seattle, 1994.