The Architect (Portrait of John Joseph Borie, III, 1869-1926)
Oil on canvas
Gift of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller; P.935.1.19
Although today he is the most admired American realist painter of the late nineteenth century, Philadelphia native Thomas Eakins adopted an austere, psychologically probing approach to portraiture that held little appeal for potential clients. He more often chose his sitters from among family members and acquaintances, many of them highly accomplished in their occupations. He revealed his admiration for their pursuits by titling several of his late portraits with his sitters’ professions, such as The Cello Player, An Actress, and, as seen here, The Architect. This elongated, full-length portrait—a format inspired by the work of Velázquez—depicts John Joseph Borie III (1869-1926), who is listed in the Philadelphia city directories of 1896 through 1899 as an architect. According to family records he worked for the firm of Cope & Stewardson, probably as a draftsman, and practiced in New York before permanently moving to England in 1906 or 1907. He reportedly knew Thomas Eakins through the artist’s close friend Samuel Murray. In this work, which Eakins inexplicably left unfinished, Borie rests assuredly against a drafting table, suggesting his full command over his profession. Whereas his dark, somewhat rumpled suit almost disappears into the background, his face and hands stand out in sharp contrast. Eakins thereby draws our eye to Borie’s deeply thoughtful expression and his heavily veined, muscular hands—tools of his trade and markers of his character. This painting’s donor, Abby Aldrich (Mrs. John D.) Rockefeller, acquired this painting through an intermediary from John Joseph Borie’s cousin, the painter Adolphe Borie (1877-1934), who had received it as a gift from the artist.
Last Updated: 5/13/09