Thomas Eakins (1844–1916) determined to become a portrait painter after study with Jean-Léon Gérôme in Paris and immersion in the works of Velázquez at the Museo del Prado, Madrid.
In 1875, he expanded the understanding of portraiture with his painting Portrait of Professor Gross or The Gross Clinic, in which he painted Dr. Gross in the surgical amphitheatre at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. The painting’s realism shocked critics.
Eakins was Director of Instruction at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts from 1882–1886, where he developed a professional course of instruction including painting from the human figure. The Academy’s Board wished to attract amateur as well as professional students, and in 1886 they forced Eakins to resign, nominally over his use of male and female nude models in the studio, and his encouragement to students to model for one another.
In later years, Eakins invited artists and musicians who he felt were “worthy of being remembered” to sit for his portraits.