Thomas Eakins’ painting, “William Rush Carving his Allegorical Figure of the Schuylkill River,” depicts the American sculptor William Rush working on his statue Water Nymph and Bittern in 1808 for a Philadelphia fountain. This painting caused some controversy when it was exhibited in 1878, but it is now considered one of Eakins’ masterpieces.
In the painting, Rush diligently carves the figure of the Schuylkill River with an intense focus that conveys his dedication to his craft. The realism and attention to detail are evident not only in Rush’s work but also in the surrounding details like tools strewn on tables and rushed hay on floors. Fascinated by this historical figure, Eakins also executed several imaginary glimpses showing Rush carving other sculptures.
The painting is part of Mary C. and James W. Fosburgh’s collection and was originally created between 1876-77; however, Eakins painted a second version in 1908 with added details focused on light expressionism elements illuminating material surfaces without losing its hyper-realistic touch. William Rush is known as the first major American sculptor whose life was spent sculpting at no little cost to him from exposure throughout history until authentic discoveries provide him much better credit than before along with artists known around him today.