Thomas Eakins, a 19th century realist painter, created his only Biblical subject with The Crucifixion in 1880. The painting portrays a stunningly realistic depiction of the human body, which highlights Eakins’ push for realism in his work. The principal figure is imbued with qualities that are communicated through handwriting carefully included in the painting, allowing for a deeper understanding of their character.
Initially met with criticism due to the stark contrast between its gritty realism and religious subject matter, recent conservation analysis has shown thin layers of paint beneath the surface. A major retrospective of Eakins’ works provides new insight into his interest in portraying the human body realistically and incorporating elements of psychology into his pieces.
Eakins was known for his carefully studied portraits and genre scenes, often depicting middle-class men pursuing leisure activities while women were portrayed as intense and brooding. These distinct differences shaped how viewers responded to his artwork at the time it was produced. Despite initial criticism, today The Crucifixion remains an example of Eakins’ unique talent for using art to communicate something fundamental about humanity.