Woman Hat Café Portrait (+ Thomas Eakins and Alice Kurtz)

Woman outside café, portrait (almost French nineteenth century)by William Eaton

Woman outside café, portrait (almost French nineteenth century)by William Eaton

I have thought of myself as a portrait artist who often does portraits of women who happen to be naked. (See Nudes portfolio, and elsewhere.) In some next life (and I am not young!), I look forward to doing nude portraits of women of my acquaintance who are not professional models. This—naturalism, we might call it—is an advantage of using people in cafés (such as the woman at left) as “models.”

I am also here reminded of how Thomas Eakins used to ask most every woman who sat for a portrait if she would pose nude for him. (Most refused, I believe.) This from Sidney D. Kirkpatrick, The Revenge of Thomas Eakins (Yale University Press, 2006) concerning the subject of one of Eakins’s greatest paintings: Miss Alice Kurtz.

Alice Kurtz, a prominent banker’s daughter whom Eakins painted clothed in 1903, was one of the female subjects he asked to pose nude. Many years after their modeling session, after Kurtz had become a grandmother, she recalled the “amusing incident,” as she termed it. In the midst of her posing, her collar button slid down inside the back of her dress. “I wore high starched collars over shirtwaists in those days,” she wrote. “I sat as long as possible with the wretched button pressing into my spinal column & then during a rest I screwed up my courage to ask Mr. Eakins if he could reach down my back & get it out. After doing so, he remarked, ‘You have a nice back—much like a boy. I would like to paint you nude.’ His manner was so simple, so honest, I said, ‘Well, I will ask my Mother and see.’ My Mother did not forbid it, but said perhaps it would be better not on the whole. . . . My personal reaction would have been that I’d have quite liked to do it, for I felt he was quite pure-minded in the matter. I was rather a simple-minded young thing of twenty or there about when he painted me and the idea of being a nude model quite appealed to me.”

All drawings and paintings on this website are by William Eaton. Those interested in acquiring the original works can contact William at eaton0824 AT gmail.

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