Description: William H. Macdowell

In this 1904 portrait of William H. Macdowell (1823–1906), Thomas Eakins depicts his father-in-law with a spare style that speaks eloquently of the sitter’s character and inner life.  Macdowell emerges from a dark background, details of his coat and overcoat barely visible. His gaze is intent, his countenance somber.

An engraver and photographer, William H. Macdowell was an unconventional man who was not overly troubled by societal rules.  More than twenty years earlier, before Eakins had married his daughter Susan, Macdowell had participated with his daughter and mutual friends including Eakins in a beach outing where they took photographs of each other in nude poses from classical antiquity.  Nude modeling was to be the nominal cause of Eakins later losing his position as Director of Illustration at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

Over the course of their acquaintance, Eakins painted Macdowell six or seven times.  This was the last of Eakins’s portraits of his father-in-law.

  • Artist: Thomas Eakins, American, 1844–1916
  • Created: ca. 1904
  • Credit Line: Marion Stratton Gould Fund, 41.26