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Thomas Cowperthwait Eakins, Miss Alice Kurtz (1903)

For Artwork in Focus we explore individual artworks, critiquing their style and discussing their socio-political context. Today we look at Miss Alice Kurtz (1903) by Thomas Cowperthwait Eakins.

About the Work

Title : Miss Alice Kurtz
Artist : Thomas Cowperthwait Eakins
Year : 1903
Medium : Oil on canvas
Dimensions : 59.4 x 49.2 cm (23 3/8 x 19 3/8 in.)
Location : Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Miss Alice Kurtz

According to the digital catalogue of the Harvard Art Museums :

“In this portrait, Eakins disavowed period notions of the ideal female body to emphasize the sitter’s inner life. With her muscular neck and shoulders, dreamy, unfocused gaze, and melancholic air, Alice Kurtz is not merely an object for the male gaze, but a psychologically complex, self-possessed personality.”

Commissioned portraiture ensured a steady flow of income for artists. This particular piece was commissioned by William B. Kurtz, father of the sitter.

While painting portraits, it was typical for artists to ‘cover up’ the sitter’s flaws and ‘accentuate’ their beauty. Using artistic license, the painter was allowed to tweak or outright change certain things about the work if it meant making a better portrait. Thomas Eakins, however, often questioned gender roles through his art. For this reason, in the portrait presented here, he did fetishize Alice Kurtz like most artists of his time would do to a female sitter. Unfortunately, this decision angered the sitter’s father.

Other Details

John Singer Sargent’s Miss Alice Kurtz is housed in the Harvard Art Museums in Room 2710. It is part of the museum’s collection of the North Arcade. The piece has been housed at the Fogg Art Museum since 1969.

To learn more about iconic artworks and their socio-political context, visit Artwork in Focus.

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