Thomas Anshutz is known as a major disciple of Thomas Eakins and as the teacher of many of the most significant figures of the Ashcan School and Precisionism.
He was born in Newport, Kentucky in 1851, but spent his early life in Wheeling, West Virginia. In 1871 his family moved to Brooklyn and two years later he entered New York’s National Academy of Design. Anshutz soon recognized the exciting artistic developments occurring in Philadelphia, and in the fall of 1875 he enrolled in Thomas Eakins’ life class at the Philadelphia Sketch Club. He subsequently followed Eakins to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
By 1883 Anshutz had become Assistant Professor of Painting and Drawing to Thomas Eakins. Controversially, Eakins had insisted upon the use of nude models in life drawing classes with female students and three years later Anshutz succeeded Eakins after the latter’s dismissal from the school. Anshutz’s promotion disrupted the two artists’ close working and personal relationship but in many respects Anshutz continued the legacy of the Academy’s most celebrated painter. He served as the artistic link between the nineteenth century realism of Eakins and twentieth century realist movements. His students included Robert Henri, John Sloan, George Luks, William Glackens, Charles Demuth and Charles Sheeler.
In 1898, Anshutz and Hugh Breckenridge established a summer art school in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, known as the Darby School of Painting. In 1909, he succeeded William Merritt Chase as Director of The Pennsylvania Academy and in the following year, he became President of the Philadelphia Sketch Club.Thomas Anshutz painted many portraits over the course of his career, often using friends and relatives as models. His portrait of the artist Helen Thurlow is an excellent example of his mature, painterly style. His loose, fluid use of the pastel medium gives the figure a lively immediacy, capturing both the model’s form and the subtle effects of light bouncing off of her pink dress. Helen A. Thurlow was the daughter of Thomas and Annie Thurlow of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, from 1904-1912, where Thomas Anshutz was head instructor. The portrait is undoubtedly drawn from life during Ms. Thurlow's student years.