Eakins’ Starting Out After Rail (1874)

Any serious artist looking at Eakins' Starting out after Rail (1874) would immediately link the white canvas sail angled to the left with the white-gessoed canvasses he or she faces when starting to paint. On an easel the canvas would also be supported by wooden stretchers not unlike like the mast, boom and batten of the boat. The wooden pole, furthermore, lying in the hull to catch ropes is not unlike the wooden mahlstick on which an artist like Eakins steadies his hand to paint fine details.

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Eakins, Starting Out After Rail (1874) Oil on canvas. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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The hull, like that of most boats too, is ocular or eye-shaped thereby suggesting that what we are seeing is not in front of Eakins but behind his eye where he has imagined his creation of the image in nautical terms, his own identity as an artist displaced onto the two sailors carefully navigating the waters. The surface of any water is also an age-old symbol for the mirror-like surface of the mind, made yet more significant by the medieval legend that Narcissus invented painting. In more ways than one, then, Eakins' art has been reimagined as the sailors' craft.

Captions for image(s) above:

Detail of Eakins, Starting Out After Rail (1874)

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Notes:

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 24 Apr 2012. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.