The Eakins Manual

Thomas Eakins
Drawing of Gears
Pen, ink and pencil on paper, 11 7/16 × 16 7/8, c. 1860
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.

"Thomas Eakins (1844-1916), said to be "the greatest draughtsman in America" didn't really like to draw. He rarely sketched in pencil and hurried his students into working with brush and paint. He did like teaching, but was fired twice for his insubordinate, unconventional ways. ...

Before he came to prefer oil painting, Eakins intended to be a drawing teacher. Star drawing student at Central High School in Philadelphia, he applied for (but did not get) a position teaching drawing classes there in 1862, the year after he graduated. Son of a drawing master, he worked for his father for a time, inscribing documents and teaching penmanship. Then, taken by an ambition to become a painter, he traveled to Paris in 1866 to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts."—Kathleen A. Foster, The Tools of Art: The Drawing Manual of Thomas Eakins
The best way to understand the importance of A Drawing Manual by Thomas Eakins is to read the editor, Kathleen A. Foster's entire introduction and the accompanying essay by Amy Werbel. Published in 2005 by the Philadelphia Museum of Art in association with Yale University Press, this book is exquisitely produced.

I am taking the liberty of excerpting a few paragraphs from the introduction and essay to give you a glimpse of the position and importance of this manual in Eakin's life and in the history of American art. You'll have to find your own copy to fully value this work.
"Although Instructional art books have been widely used since Leon Battista Alberti first published De Pictura in 1435, their popularity has waxed and waned over the centuries. One of the periods in which such manuals flourised was in the United States in the nineteenth century, during the era Peter Marzio has dubbed the "art crusade." Influenced by the widespread belief that drawing instruction could raise the cultural and economic prospects of the nation, Americans bought more than 145,000 copies of drawing manuals between 1820 and 1860. Many, such as Rembrandt Peale's ubiquitous Graphics, were intended for public grade school students; others were authored for the legions of Americans who took up drawing as an edifying hobby. Unlike Alberti's text, these treatises emphasized drawing rather than painting, and most of them discussed mathematical systems of linear perspective only as a small part of a more universal introduction to art.

By the early 1880s, however, when Thomas Eakins, then director of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, sat down to draft a drawing manual for his students, the enormous wave of interest that had inspired these manuals and defined the period of the 'art crusade' had already crested, and the popularity of perspective drawing had largely given way to interest in more sensual approaches to rendering pictorial space. Those who have studied Eakins will not be surprised that he undertook authorship of a text that ran so dramatically contrary to the trends of his time, but a more searching analysis of the methods and topics included in his drawing manual, as well as its relationship to other simimlar texts, reveals much about the artist's influeences and beliefs. Eakins first formed his conception of the nature and purposes of art during the art crusade; as a result, mathematics and drawing remained the ground line of his artistic practice throughout his life. His text thus owes its very existence to the works produced by earlier "art crusaders," and their spirit infuses both its practical and its philosophical pedagogy."
Amy B. Werbel, Thomas Eakins: Last of the Art Crusaders
Personally, I would never use Eakin's manual for my own or any student's instruction. It's quite technical and relies heavily on mathematics. However, it's historic importance is a fact and because of Foster's article and Werbel's essay, I agree with the Philadelphia Museum of Art Publications blurb that states: "This book is essential for any student, scholar, curator, or individual interested in American art and art education."

To appreciate the hands-on depth and breadth of her scholarship, read Thomas Riedel's review of Kathleen Foster's Thomas Eakins Rediscovered.  Thomas Eakins Rediscovered on Google Books.

Read Amy Werbel's article Process on Paper: Thomas Eakins Drawings from the Charles Bregler Collection of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

I took my first formal drawing classes at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and had the great luxury of regularly wandering through that museum and its collections as an adolescent when I could hear only the echoes of my own footsteps. Buy your copy of A Drawing Manual by Thomas Eakins there.

Read more about Thomas Eakins, his teaching and legacy.

See a selection of Eakins Drawings at Wiki Commons.

View the collection of Thomas Eakins letters, some of which include drawings, at the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.

To survey some paintings online, visit

Finally, one great big book Thomas Eakins</>

"Of course, it is well to go abroad and see the works of the old masters, but Americans... must strike out for themselves, and only by doing this will we create a great and distinctly American art." —Thomas Eakins