Exhibition - Portrayed by Eakins: Ella Crowell as Model and Student

Sunday, Apr 14, 2024 from 11:00am to 5:00pm


Ella Crowell (1873–1897) was an important figure in the art and life of her uncle, the renowned American artist Thomas Eakins (1844–1916). He famously painted her as a toddler in Baby at Play (1876) but was later held responsible for her mental decline and early death. The general contours of her last years are known—she moved to Philadelphia in April 1890 to study with Eakins, was placed in a mental hospital by September 1896, and died by suicide in July 1897—but the particulars are vague. Crowell’s parents and siblings, for their part, blamed Eakins for contaminating her with “beastly ideas.” The family remained forever estranged.

Taking as a starting point a newly discovered Eakins sketch of Ella Crowell from the mid-1890s, Portrayed by Eakins examines not simply her death but the broader scope of her lived experience. What were her ambitions and aims? Period correspondence suggests that she wished to chart an independent course, one in which she was not reliant on family or marriage for financial support or social relevance. Familiar with the Philadelphia art world, Crowell perhaps saw an art career as her means of achieving autonomy. This exhibition considers the opportunities and limitations Ella Crowell encountered, using archival materials to trace the contours of a life lived in the shadow of America’s most celebrated portraitist.

Exhibition Dates: February 3 - June 2, 2024

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