An uncompromising realist whose works and teachings inspired generations of artists, Thomas Eakins was born July 25, 1844, in Philadelphia. Eakins attended Central High School, which was known for its academic emphasis on science, and from 1862 to 1865 studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, also attending courses on anatomy at the Jefferson Medical College, for which he created one of his most celebrated works, The Gross Clinic (1875). In 1866, he enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where he studied under Jean-Léon Gérôme. He traveled to Italy, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, and Spain before returning to Philadelphia in 1870, establishing a studio at his family home.
In 1876, Eakins began to teach at the School of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He was appointed professor of drawing and painting in 1879 and became director in 1882. Two years later he married one of his students, Susan Hannah MacDowell. Despite growing opposition to his methods, which included the use of nude models in his classes, Eakins continued to teach. After he was forced to resign in 1886, his student supporters retaliated by forming the Art Students League of Philadelphia (1886–93) with Eakins as their instructor. After this event, he concentrated on portraiture. His subjects were portrayed with the same unyielding attention to the fact of appearance and psychological presence that Eakins had demonstrated in his earlier scenes of athletes and figural compositions. Eakins continued to paint regularly until his health began to fail in 1911. He died June 25, 1916.