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Anshutz, Thomas Pollocklocked

(05 October 1851–16 June 1912)
  • Randall C. Griffin

Thomas Pollock Anshutz.

Bronze bas relief, 1912-1916, by Adam Pietz.

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

Anshutz, Thomas Pollock (05 October 1851–16 June 1912), artist and art teacher, was born in Newport, Kentucky, the son of Jacob Anshutz and Jane Abigail Pollock. Very little information survives about his parents or his youth, though he seems to have received an early education in Newport. In 1871 Anshutz moved to Brooklyn, New York, to study art. There he lived with an uncle who had been favorably impressed by the young man’s drawings of boats on the Ohio River. Enrolling in 1873 at the prestigious National Academy of Design in New York City, Anshutz took cast- and life-drawing classes, principally with Lemuel Everett Wilmarth.

After two years of study Anshutz moved to Philadelphia and enrolled in the Philadelphia Sketch Club’s life class, taught by Thomas Eakins. In the fall of 1876 Anshutz took classes in life drawing, anatomy, and painting at the newly reopened Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. His classes at the PAFA were taught by Christian Schussele, William W. Keen, and Eakins.

In 1878 and 1879 Anshutz acted as Eakins’s assistant, helping to teach anatomy classes. Strongly impressed by Eakins’s art and teaching, Anshutz began to emulate his supervisor’s approach to painting, specifically Eakins’s emphases on anatomy, on unidealized, “factual” representations of nature, and on capturing the essential sculptural mass of the objects depicted.

At this time Anshutz painted several scenes based on summer trips to Wheeling, West Virginia, his mother’s hometown. Agricultural images like A Farmer and His Son at Harvesting (1879, Berry Hill Gallery) and The Cabbage Patch (1879, Metropolitan Museum of Art) demonstrate Anshutz’s emulation of both Eakins and Winslow Homer. Inherently nostalgic though the themes are, these pictures also present an appearance of unvarnished naturalism. This kind of unidealized realism is also present in the artist’s best-known image, The Ironworkers’ Noontime (1880, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco). Begun on one of his trips to Wheeling, this painting shows a group of ironworkers on their midday break and offers a unique record of late nineteenth-century American industrial life. Although other postbellum factory scenes were produced, such as John Ferguson Weir’s Forging the Shaft (1877, Metropolitan Museum of Art), they are anomalous and—unlike The Ironworkers’ Noontime—portray men actually working. Focusing on the men as individuals, Anshutz’s depiction rejects the customary mythologization of his subject. He consciously ignored popular stereotypes of ironworkers, undercutting their inherent melodrama. His almost photographic recording of this mundane activity also serves to remove the scene from the realm of the romantic or mythical. The total image pays homage to Eakins and his artistic vision.

In 1881 Anshutz became a full-time instructor at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He taught cast- and life-drawing classes. Over the next ten years he spent far more time teaching than painting. In the summer of 1884 Anshutz assisted Eakins and Eadweard Muybridge in a series of photographic motion studies. Anshutz, like Eakins, continued to take photographs until the end of his life, employing many of them as studies for paintings. But Anshutz exhibited nothing publicly between 1886 and 1892. By 1885 he and other junior academy faculty members had come to resent Eakins, the school’s director, for what they perceived as his dogmatic approach to teaching and an unwillingness to vary course curriculum. They also believed that Eakins had committed serious ethical transgressions, which, however, have never been proven. Anshutz took a leading role in Eakins’s ouster from the academy in 1886. Yet he continued many of his former teacher’s approaches to instruction. While rejecting Eakins’s “scientific” method, with its emphasis on dissection, photographic motion studies, and perspective, Anshutz continued to propagate Eakins’s emphasis on the empirical study of nature. Believing that art schools were in the business of teaching not art, but rather fundamental skills and knowledge, he encouraged his students to develop their own artistic visions. In class assignments and numerous after-class discussions, the tall, lanky, and somewhat shy Anshutz emphasized the necessity for artistic change, experimentation, and the questioning of accepted conventions. During this period Anshutz produced several Dutch-inspired interior genre scenes, including In a Garret (1891, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts), a rare example of an American treatment of death and a woman.

In 1892 Anshutz married Effie Shriver Russell; they had one child. Immediately after the wedding, Anshutz and his wife left for Paris, where he enrolled in the well-known art school, the Académie Julian, taking classes taught by Lucien Doucet and William Adolphe Bouguereau. After a decade of teaching, Anshutz had decided to concentrate exclusively on his painting and followed in the footsteps of the majority of other celebrated late nineteenth-century American painters, who had studied in Europe. However, Anshutz, who quickly grew bored with the Paris institution’s many drawing classes, left the school after only six months. During the spring he traveled through Europe, visiting various museums and, in Paris, viewing the art of the French impressionists and postimpressionists. Impressionist painting inspired him to produce a series of bright plein-air watercolors of Paris street scenes.

After his return to Philadelphia in the late spring of 1893, Anshutz once more took up his teaching position at the PAFA. He spent that summer in Holly Beach, New Jersey, where he continued painting plein-air watercolors. The following summer he produced a group of vibrant watercolors and pastels of boys along the New Jersey coast, including Two Boys by a Boat (c. 1894, Carnegie Museum of Art). Among his most elegant and luminous images, they include no extraneous detail, describing only the general masses of the bodies and revealing the painter’s continuing interest in an artistic distillation of nature. From 1895 through 1900 Anshutz painted many plein-air landscapes of New Jersey and Pennsylvania scenes, and in the summer of 1897 he produced a group of oil paintings of sailing ships based on a trip down the Delaware River. For example, The Lumber Boat (c. 1897, private collection), rendered in a new impressionist-inspired style, effectively conveys the atmospheric effects of a rainy, breezy day.

Between 1893 and 1910 Anshutz created more than one hundred charcoal drawings, based on his work as a teacher of cast-drawing classes. These are some of the most accomplished American cast drawings of the period. Anshutz was able to rethink the tradition-bound genre, and he succeeded in infusing into the drawings a new sense of drama and creativity. In the best of these works, through use of strong chiaroscuro and distillation of form, the casts appear animated and coursing with life.

During this same period, from 1896 to 1910, Anshutz painted several postimpressionist-inspired watercolors, gouaches, and oils. These were a product of his earlier exposure to modern art in Paris and also a response to the bright impressionist paintings of Hugh Breckenridge. In 1899 Breckenridge and Anshutz founded a summer art school in the rural southeastern Pennsylvania community of Darby. The art school was later moved to Fort Washington, Pennsylvania. Many of Anshutz’s undated landscape sketches, which range from delicate pointillist-inspired watercolors to brilliantly colored, highly abstracted fauvelike oils, derive from walking trips around Fort Washington. Some of these sketches are among the most daring produced in Philadelphia before the Armory Show of 1913. Of all of Anshutz’s landscapes, only two combine bright non-naturalistic color and a high level of abstraction. Both are titled simply Landscape. One of these works (c. 1911–1912, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts) is a Nabis-inspired watercolor; the other (c. 1911–1912, private collection) is reminiscent of Van Gogh and Maurice Vlaminck.

The most ambitious of Anshutz’s modernist pictures is his oil painting Steamboat on the Ohio (c. 1896–1907, Carnegie Institute). Based on his photographs of Wheeling, it depicts a group of men and boys on the shore of the Ohio River watching a majestic white steamboat pass an orange-red factory on the far shore. Probably one of the earliest Nabis-inspired images painted in America, the picture strangely conflates conservative Gauguin and Mark Twain. It offered the viewer the vicarious pleasure of escaping into a nostalgic world. Despite its modern style, Steamboat on the Ohio is essentially an adaptation of popular artistic conventions that juxtaposed the rural and the industrial, the past and the present. Yet Anshutz made it his own. By adopting a modern artistic style, he was able to reinvigorate an older iconographic tradition.

Anshutz’s modernist paintings undercut traditional notions about the development of early American modernism concerning the separation between realist and modernist, conservative and avant-garde. This is not, however, to argue that Anshutz was a major modernist: he painted only a small number of modernist works, and they were never exhibited publicly. Moreover, Anshutz was an artist clearly rooted in the nineteenth century, of the generation and training of Eakins and Homer. It was this artistic and cultural milieu that forged his outlook and made his forays into modern painting unusual.

Beginning in 1902 Anshutz again exhibited paintings on a regular basis, a sign of the artist’s newly won confidence and ambition and of his growing enthusiasm for portraiture. He regarded that genre as a demanding and rewarding artistic challenge and said that it allowed him to explore the temperament and intellect of his sitters. His finest portraits, such as Portrait of Mrs. Anshutz (1893, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts), Portrait of Margaret Perot (c. 1908, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden), Portrait of Emily Fairchild Pollock (c. 1900, private collection), A Rose (1908, Metropolitan Museum of Art), and Self Portrait (c. 1909, National Academy of Design), endow their subjects with dignity and strength of character. The artist’s portrait style brings together the dry naturalism of Eakins with the painterly brushwork of Robert Henri and William Merritt Chase. Late in his life, Anshutz also produced some very fine brightly colored pastel portraits based on the pastels of the French artist Albert Besnard.

Portraiture provided Anshutz his first widespread recognition as a painter. In 1909 he won the Pennsylvania Academy’s Walter Lippincott Prize for his figure study The Tanagra (1909, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts). Some of his other awards include a silver medal at the Saint Louis annual, a gold medal from the Pennsylvania Academy in 1909, and a gold medal at the Buenos Aires International Exposition in 1911. As his artistic reputation increased, so did his stature in art organizations. In 1909 he became director of the Pennsylvania Academy and a year later president of the Philadelphia Sketch Club. Also in 1910 he was made a member of the National Academy of Design.

At the time Anshutz finally began to receive national and international recognition he was becoming increasingly ill. Already suffering the effects of terminal heart disease by late 1909, he had to quit teaching at the PAFA by the fall of 1910. In the summer of 1911 he visited London, Paris, and Bad Nauheim, Germany, where for six weeks he was hospitalized for curative treatment. He returned in the fall to Philadelphia, where he died.

Anshutz left a greater legacy as a teacher than as an artist. He rarely achieved a truly distinctive artistic vision and produced only a few paintings that are currently well known, including The Ironworkers’ Noontime and The Girl in White (1908, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden). Yet as a teacher he was as influential as Benjamin West and Robert Henri. With important artists among his students such as Henri, Breckenridge, John Sloan, William Glackens, George Luks, Charles Demuth, Arthur B. Carles, and John Marin, Anshutz acted both as a nexus between Eakins and the group of New York realist painters known as the Eight of 1908 and as a catalyst for the beginnings of early American modernism in Philadelphia. His former students have written that they respected his insight, openness, and honesty.


Anshutz’s papers are in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the Archives of American Art. The most complete assessment of his work is Randall C. Griffin, Thomas Anshutz: Artist and Teacher (1994). See also Griffin, “Thomas Anshutz: A Contextual Study of His Art and Teaching” (Ph.D. diss., Univ. of Delaware, 1994). Other important sources are Sandra Lee Denney, “Thomas Anshutz: His Life, Art, and Teachings” (master’s thesis, Univ. of Delaware, 1969), and Ruth Bowman, “Thomas Pollock Anshutz: 1851–1912” (master’s thesis, New York Univ., 1971). See also Francis J. Ziegler, “An Unassuming Painter—Thomas P. Anshutz,” Brush and Pencil 4 (Sept. 1899): 277–84. For a discussion of The Ironworkers’ Noontime, see Griffin, “Thomas Anshutz’s The Ironworkers’ Noontime: Remythologizing the Industrial Worker,” Smithsonian Studies in American Art (Summer–Fall 1990): 128–43.