(american 1844-1916)
Inscribed 'Study of Old Man/ painted by/ Thomas Eakins' verso, oil on canvas laid to board
13 x 10 in. (33 x 25.4cm)
Estate of the Artist.
To Susan McDowell Eakins (until 1938).
Babcock Galleries, New York, New York.
Acquired from the above.
The Collection of Lewis and Marie Kayton, San Antonio, Texas (1939).
By descent in the family.
The Collection of Carole Marie Kayton, San Antonio, Texas (1949).
Christie's, New York, sale of May 24, 2007, lot 126.
Acquired from the above.
Private Collection, New York, New York.

Thomas Eakins, aside from being arguably the greatest of nineteenth-century American artists, was also among the most methodical, assembling his most ambitious paintings from a host of preparatory studies. In meticulous perspective drawings Eakins would map and test the space his subjects would inhabit. In photographs he would arrest fleeting poses of his protagonists. With small wax sculptures he would rotate those figures for the strongest narrative interaction. And in oil sketches, usually made on-site, he would record the color and light that defined and communicated the significance he saw in his subjects and, in such naturalism, would make them believable to viewers. His insistence on such care in constructing a painting did much to make his works the monuments they are considered today. His insistence that his students at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts take equal care, when many did not share his dedication, set the stage for his removal as director of that institution.
Despite the numbers of studies we know that Eakins made - more than one early patron was reported to have had walls full of such sketches, the gift of the artist - only a few have survived to the present day, and of those almost all of the ones for major paintings are in museum collections. On that score alone, the present work stands out.
In the late 1890s, a decade after he was forced out of the Academy, Eakins took up a series of large-scale paintings of boxers and wrestlers to re-establish in the public's mind his reputation as America's foremost chronicler of modern life. A lifelong fan of sports, the painter saw in our everyday contests and entertainments the grandeur, the drama, the struggle for purpose and accomplishment, that others admired in ancient theater. Such a subject required consummate attention not only to the action in the ring but also to the reactions - the expectations and fulfillment - that registered on the spectators whose attendance was no less necessary to the event's existence. Many of the spectators in this series of paintings are portraits of Eakins's friends. Though the sitter for the present sketch is unknown to us, it is likely that Eakins knew him as well and considered his presence a defining element of the arena's ambience, deserving of the special attention he gave to capture for his time and ours the characteristic pose, the color and lines of his flesh, the filtered daylight from the venue's skylight, that would induce us to know that "Taking the Count", (see illustration) a scene of rejecting defeat in the brutal, smoky, odorous atmosphere of a boxing match, was a subject of the very highest order.

-W. Douglass Paschall, Independent Scholar and Curator

Thomas Eakins, "Taking the Count", oil on canvas, 96 7/8 x 84 5/8 in. (246.1 x 214.9cm), The Collection of Yale University
Photo Credit: Yale University Art Gallery

Estimate $15,000-25,000

Sold for $46,875 (buyer's premium included)