Thomas Anshutz

Thomas Pollock Anshutz is probably best known to most folks by a single painting, “The Ironworkers’ Noontime”. The painting hangs at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and portray a group of “puddlers” (the most skilled workers in the factory who determine the ingredients that get melted together in a cauldron) on their break from work in a nail factory. They are stripped to their waist and stretching, looking somewhat like ballet dancers warming up at the bar. But Anshutz also has work hanging at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, “A Rose” [1907]; the National Gallery of Art, “Rooftops, St. Cloud” [unknown]; and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, “Checker Players” [1895]. But we at the Club know him well, and have his forty-four portraits of fellow members forming a frieze along the tops of the walls in the library, part of the evidence that Anshutz loved the Club and the Club loved him.

Those portraits began when a popular member, William J. Clark, Jr. died the 1st August 1889; Anshutz presented to the Club an unfinished oil sketch of Mr. Clark. In March of 1892, Anshutz offered to paint the portraits of other members, the paintings to always remain the property of the Club. The only stipulation was that each sitter had to furnish his own canvas, properly stretched and of a uniformed size. Anshutz completed sixteen portraits by October. In 1895, before the series was completed, the Club honored Anshutz by presenting him with a silver table service. The last portrait was finished in 1900.

“The lank and sedate Kentuckian, Prof. Anshutz, was forced at the point of a sword, to dangle and flop his number ten bug-crushers to the wild jig music rendered by Prof. Schell,” so reads a passage in Seventy-Five Years of the Philadelphia Sketch Club. Born 1851 in Newport, Kentucky, Anshutz came with his family to Philadelphia when he was nineteen. He began his artistic training under Lemuel Wilmarth at the National Academy of Design in New York, but later returned to Philadelphia in 1876 to enroll in the classes Thomas Eakins taught at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. A year later he was the assistant demonstrator in the Academy’s dissecting room. By 1881 he was a member of the faculty.

Again we take a peek into the Club’s history book: ” A very large attendance of members and guests, enjoyed the exhibition and afterwards the entertainment provided at the Annual meeting in January 1881. Mr. Clark was again re-elected President, and the Club’s award for ‘the best carefully finished study’ was voted to Thomas Anshutz, who was a popular member of the Club then and for many years following. At this time he had just become an instructor in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts School, where as a member of the faculty he was instrumental from time to time in introducing many of its students into Sketch Club membership. He was a man of deep knowledge and gentle tolerance, with a mind that was keenly and continually receptive to new methods and new ideas. As a member of the Club, he was a powerful influence in stimulating and sustaining interest in the serious endeavors of the members. As an instructor he was unequalled. He had much to do with the aroused enthusiasm for the sketching part of the program.”

Although Anshutz at first adored Eakins and was regarded as Eakins best student, in later years Anshutz sided against his mentor when Eakins was forced to resign as director of the Academy. Anshutz also tried, unsuccessfully, to force Eakins out of our Club, but I shall leave it to others to pick apart this peccadillo. He took Eakins place as the head of life classes in 1886. There is an etching by John Sloan in the Delaware Art Museum that shows Anshutz giving his talk on anatomy. (John Sloan, a former student of Anshutz, had walked out on his class after Anshutz complained about his sketching the students and not the bust.) Other students of Anshutz were Arthur Carles, Charles Demuth, Daniel Garber, William Glackens, Robert Henri, George Luks, John Martin, Charles Sheeler, and Everett Shinn. Among these names you will notice many of the Ashcan School. Anshutz had passed on Eakins emphasis for realism to a new generation. From 1909 until his death in 1912, Anshutz served as the director of the Academy, succeeding William Merritt Chase.

Thomas Anshutz died on the 16th June 1912. A special meeting of Club members was convened on the 17th to compose notes of condolence for his widow. Over forty Club members attended the funeral and made up most of the pall-bearers. The Philadelphia Sketch Club’s entranceway was draped in black for a fortnight.