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The Dancing Lesson, Eakins

Thomas Eakins (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1844 – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1916)

The Dancing Lesson, 1878

Watercolor on paper

45,9 x 57,3 cm

Fletcher Fund, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Open Access, public domain


Thomas Eakins was an important American painter, he lived in Philadelphia between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century.

He had a solid artistic background dedicated to the study of human anatomy and incorporated photography as a resource and a way to expand his creative expression.

He was a sports lover and encouraged the practice among his students, as well as the study of the nude, both of men and women. Even with male nude classes attended by female students.

He was a professor and director of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and these most transgressive approaches over the years have prompted his resignation.

This brief presentation allows us to look at “The Dancing Lesson”, where we can see an apparently simple scene, but full of empowerment.

The three figures represent the phases of life, the child, the young and the elderly. They are composed almost as in a circle, the cycle of life, in which the looks between the three lead us along the way.

There are three people, and black. Looking at the scene, we can see on the left, at the top, a small portrait hanging on the wall of President Abraham Lincoln, which led the United States of America to the end of the civil war and slavery. Which means they are free people.

This work gave Eakins his first prize, a silver medal at the Massachusetts Charity Association exhibition in 1878.

I chose this watercolor to start my presentation on Thomas Eakins because I consider slavery to be the true outrage, not human nudity.

We can also see that there is a lightness in the boy’s dance and a serenity in the face and posture of the elderly, the boy being a wide curve that is the very flow of life, of the choices and paths that we trace.

The greatest understanding that I have is that we must embrace life and move on firmly, overcoming obstacles and ensuring everything we achieve for future generations.