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Twenty-eight young men bathe by the shore,
Twenty-eight young men and all so friendly;
Twenty-eight years of womanly life and all so lonesome.
She owns the fine house by the rise of the bank,
She hides handsome and richly drest aft the blinds of the window.
Which of the young men does she like the best?
Ah the homeliest of them is beautiful to her.
Where are you off to, lady? for I see you,
You splash in the water there, yet stay stock still in your room.
Dancing and laughing along the beach came the twenty-ninth bather,
The rest did not see her, but she saw them and loved them.
The beards of the young men glisten’d with wet, it ran from their long hair,
Little streams pass’d all over their bodies.
An unseen hand also pass’d over their bodies,
It descended tremblingly from their temples and ribs.
The young men float on their backs, their white bellies bulge to the sun,
they do not ask who seizes fast to them,
They do not know who puffs and declines with pendant and bending arch,
They do not think whom they souse with spray.
–Walt Whitman, Song of Myself, sec 11 in Leaves of Grass bk ii (1855)
In 1887, Renoir painted the Large Bathers, and in 1885 Eakins painted the Swimming Hole. There is a good deal connecting these paintings. Both present swimmers in full nudity, testing the prudery of the day (though in a context that was acceptable on the margins). Both have a frank eroticism which could easily have provoked scandal. But then there are also important differences, and among them the fact that Eakins painted men and Renoir women. There is also a sort of national sense of aesthetics. Renoir’s work is undeniably French, and Eakins’s is a masterwork of the American realist school. But Eakins work is more interesting to me. It’s carefully composed but it hopes to be a glimpse of an everyday outing to a favorite swimming hole. It’s drawn, like much of Eakins’s painting, from photographic masters (the specific photo on which it is based can be viewed here and at The Getty Museum). It’s popular today to talk about Eakins and his work (and this one more than others) as homoerotic. That may well be. But not necessarily. It follows an obsession that Eakins had with the human body and its movement throughout his life; nearly all of Eakins works are in some way a study of the body, and his most famous works, the two clinic paintings, are studies of studies of the human body. He aspires to show it gracefully and naturally. And he also aims to provoke. He detests the prudishness of the Victorian age; its obsession with tightly fitting and uncomfortable clothing and its sense of shame over the human body. “Eakins was a deep student of life, and with a great love he studied humanity frankly,” said his friend Robert Henri. “He was not afraid of what his study revealed to him.” His entire life was marked by controversy surrounding this point, and students who worked with him noted his preference for nudity—he posed for them and they posed for him. In this painting he presents himself in the right foreground in an almost voyeuristic pose. Eakins’s ideas about the human body find an interesting parallel in the poetry of Walt Whitman, and indeed, they may have been acquired from Whitman, at least to a degree. This attachment to Whitman survives from the records of Eakins’s students—they called themselves “the Whitmans.” Eakins admired Walt Whitman tremendously. He painted Whitman’s portrait and developed a rapport with the poet, and Whitman appreciated Eakins extraordinary vision–calling on him to speak at a testimonial dinner and then remembering that Eakins did his speaking through a medium other than words. Eakins was particularly taken by the Song of Myself. The painting The Swimming Hole seems unmistakably inspired by the passage quoted above from it, and Eakins himself, referring to it as one of “his Whitmans,” would support this reading. It’s a remarkable example of a poem realized in oil and canvas.
Listen to Antonin Dvo?ák’s Piano Trio No. 4 in E Minor, opus 90, the “Dumky,” performed by the Beaux Arts Trio. The word “Dumky” could be translated as “quick thoughts,” and each of the six movements can be seen as the musical articulation of a thought. This work, one of Dvo?ák’s most successful chamber pieces, was published in 1891, just as he began his tenure as a conservatory professor and director in New York.
More from Scott Horton:
Conversation — March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm
Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.
Freddie Gray’s relatives arrived for the trial in the afternoon, after the prep-school kids had left. By their dress, they seemed to have just gotten off work in the medical and clerical fields. The family did not appear at ease in the courtroom. They winced and dropped their heads as William Porter and his fellow officer Zachary Novak testified to opening the doors of their police van last April and finding Freddie paralyzed, unresponsive, with mucus pooling at his mouth and nose. Four women and one man mournfully listened as the officers described needing to get gloves before they could touch him.
The first of six Baltimore police officers to be brought before the court for their treatment of Freddie Gray, a black twenty-five-year-old whose death in their custody was the immediate cause of the city’s uprising last spring, William Porter is young, black, and on trial. Here in this courtroom, in this city, in this nation, race and the future seem so intertwined as to be the same thing.
Average speed of Heinz ketchup, from the mouth of an upended bottle, in miles per year:
After studying the fall of 64,000 individual raindrops, scientists found that some small raindrops fall faster than they ought to.
The Playboy mansion in California was bought by the heir to the Twinkie fortune, and a New Mexico man set fire to his apartment to protest his neighbors’ loud lovemaking.
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“Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'”