Miss Gertrude Murray


Thomas Eakins ( American, 1844 - 1916 )

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General Description

After resigning as the Director of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) in 1886, Thomas Eakins concentrated on portrait and figure painting. During this period he exhibited infrequently, received few commissions, and endured unsupportive treatment from art critics. Despite these difficulties, Eakins continued his efforts to portray the psychological reality of his sitters rather than to create fashionable likenesses. He had difficulty securing commissions for portraits, partly because of his insistence on a realism not compatible with contemporary genteel values. His subjects were often friends, students, or individuals whose intellect interested the artist— such as doctors, teachers, musicians, and clergymen. Eakins portrayed his sitters with an uncompromising realism and psychological insight into character. His late portraits, especially those of women, are often pervaded with a sense of melancholy.

Miss Gertrude Murray is an uncommissioned work done by the artist out of friendship. Miss Murray was the sister of Samuel Murray (1869-1941), a Philadelphia sculptor who initially studied at PAFA under Eakins, then became one of the artist's staunchest friends, and with whom he shared studio space. As is typical in Eakins' late portraits, he has isolated his sitter in a moment of contemplation against a neutral background. When depicting female subjects, he often drew attention to the individual's internal thoughts and gave less detailed suggestions of their costume or accessories. This method of emphasizing Miss Murray's face, creates a tension between intensely observed realism and the sketchy, bold handling of paint elsewhere in the picture.

Adapted from

  • Anne Bromberg, DMA object notes (1975.1.FA), Education files, 1987.
  • DMA Curatorial remarks (1975.1.FA), TMS data, n.d.
  • William Keyse Rudolph, DMA label copy (1975.1.FA), May 2006.
  • DMA object essay (1975.1.FA), Mayer Library artist file, n.d.

Fun Facts

  • Thomas Eakins and Samuel Murray shared a studio for ten years.
  • Gertrude Murray was a book-keeper and never married. Census records suggest that she lived with her brother and his wife. She likely became well-acquainted with Thomas Eakins between the time this portrait was completed in 1895 and his death in 1914.
  • In addition to this likeness of Samuel Murray's sister, Thomas Eakins also completed portraits of Murray, his father, fiancé, and mother-in-law. Murray returned the affectionate gesture by sculpting portraits of Eakins, his wife (Susan Macdowell Eakins), and his father (Benjamin Eakins).

Web Resources

  • Samuel Murray, Thomas Eakins, 1894
    Check out this portrait of Eakins made by his student, Samuel Murray, who was also the brother of Gertrude Murray. (Sculpture in the collection of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.)
  • Samuel Murray, Gertrude Murray, 1894
    See another portrait of Gertrude Murray, the sister of Eakins's star pupil (Samuel Murray), whose bust of Gertrude conveys the same intensity of expression. (Sculpture in the collection of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.)
  • Thomas Eakins, Portrait of Samuel Murray, 1889
    See Eakins's portrait of the sitter's brother, in the collection of the Mitchell Museum at Cedarhurst. (Image on wikicommons.)
  • Americans in Paris, 1860-1900
    Read H. Barbara Weinberg's essay about this group of expatriate artists on the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History.