Sculpture Journal

Thomas Eakins and the human écorché: understanding the body in three dimensions

Sculpture Journal (2015), 24, (3), 333–350.

Abstract

Artist Thomas Eakins (1844–1916) required Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts students to perform hands-on dissections of human cadavers. Fragments were cast in plaster (1877–80) and later bronze (1930) and used as didactic tools. While sometimes referred to as écorché, the anatomical casts are more deeply excised than traditional écorché. Therefore, they relay information about the body’s surface musculature and internal depths. Their dimensionality made them easy to handle and manipulate and allowed Eakins and his students to transcend flatness and engage spatially with the human body. Encouraging exploration of crevices and cuts with fingers and eyes, they demand visual and tactile exploration. Finally, created from cadavers rather than sculpted, they reference their human origins and are both anonymous and troublingly individualized. As such, an analysis of the origins, function and formal qualities of these anatomical casts complicates our understanding of écorché and anatomical study in Gilded Age America.

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Author details

Slipp, Naomi