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9 / Portraits

The Thinker: Portrait of Louis N. Kenton
The Thinker: Portrait of Louis N. Kenton
Artist / Origin Thomas Eakins (American, 1844–1916)
Region: North America
Date 1900
Material Oil on canvas
Medium: Painting
Dimensions H: 82 in. (208.3 cm.), W: 42 in. (106.7 cm.)
Location The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Credit Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, John Stewart Kennedy Fund

expert perspective

David LubinProfessor of Art, Wake Forest University

The Thinker: Portrait of Louis N. Kenton

» Thomas Eakins (American, 1844–1916)

expert perspective

David Lubin David Lubin Professor of Art, Wake Forest University

Eakins was attracted to what he saw as the complete honesty and integrity of the old master portraitists to sear into the consciousness of the people they were portraying. In this portrait of Louis Kenton, who was Eakins’ brother-in-law, he shows a youngish middle-aged man with wire rimmed glasses looking down at his shadow, and he has his hands plunged into his pockets and his shoulders are sagging. And it’s an image of weight, of gravity. It’s almost suggested that this man’s mind is as rumpled as his clothing, and so there’s a feeling of this is a person who has really lived. Eakins’ contemporary, John Singer Sargent was brilliant at making people look much more elegant than they were in real life, much more relaxed and soigné than they were in real life. Eakins was the opposite. He made everyone look older, more rumpled, more worn and torn down by life than they actually were or at least as they appeared to the rest of the world. So, needless to say, Sargent was a very wealthy successful portraitist and Eakins was not.

In the Louis Kenton, I would also say that even his glasses, instead of seeing his eyes through them you almost feel like his eyes are bouncing back into his head. This portrait is commonly known as The Thinker because right away it was recognized as this wonderful image of solitude and of introspection, and Eakins has done everything within this image to have this feeling of this hermetically sealed individual who’s not looking out to the world. Your hands are a way of contacting the world, but Louis has his hands deep in his pockets, so he is only in contact with himself, and his mind.” 

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