Thomas Eakins, a renowned American painter, created a portrait of the famous poet Walt Whitman in 1887-88. The two shared similar beliefs in individualism, the human body, and nature. As a friend and admirer of Whitman’s work, Eakins took several photographs of him as preparation for the portrait.
The resulting painting is a bust-length portrait of Whitman in varying shades of gray. It portrays the poet with unkempt hair and beard, wearing his signature white shirt and dark coat. The painting captures the essence of Whitman’s rugged masculinity through his weathered face and piercing gaze.
Eakins donated the finished portrait to Whitman, who in turn gifted it to Horace Traubel. Eventually, it found its home at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts where it still hangs today.
The relationship between Eakins and Whitman was steeped in mutual respect and admiration for each other’s creative pursuits. This admiration is evident in Eakins’ masterful depiction of Whitman’s rugged exterior that perfectly personifies his poetic spirit.