Amelia Van Buren

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Amelia Van Buren With a Cat, photo attributed to Thomas Eakins

Amelia C. Van Buren (c. 1856[N 1]–1942) was an American photographer who was best known for being the subject of Thomas Eakins's c. 1891 painting Miss Amelia Van Buren.[3]:348

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts[edit]

Van Buren was born in Detroit, Michigan. Both her parents died sometime prior to 1884, when she began attending the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.[3]:347–48 She had already been exhibiting her artwork in Detroit for at least four years prior to attending the Academy.

Miss Amelia Van Buren by Thomas Eakins

Her talent soon led Eakins to tutor her personally, including controversial lessons using nude models, male and female.[2]:127 In 1885–86, several of Eakins's former art students (including Thomas Pollock Anshutz and Colin Campbell Cooper) conspired to have Eakins fired from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. They approached the Academy's Committee on Instruction, and made numerous charges against Eakins. They alleged that Eakins had used female students, including Van Buren, as nude models. Another highly inflammatory charge was that Van Buren had asked Eakins a question regarding pelvic movements, which Eakins answered by removing his pants and demonstrating the movements. He later insisted that the episode was completely professional in nature.[3]:116 The committee left Eakins under the impression that the charges had been filed by Van Buren, who had moved to Detroit to recover from neurasthenia.[4] That, however, was not the case, as she greatly respected Eakins and in years to come would defend him at every opportunity, as well as express pride in owning pieces of his artwork.[5]:323

After recovering, Van Buren returned to Philadelphia, where she continued in her studies under Eakins at the Art Students' League of Philadelphia. Van Buren and Eakins stayed in close contact for a number of years afterward. Three or four years after his dismissal, Eakins painted Van Buren in Miss Amelia Van Buren.


Profile portrait of woman draped with a veil, c. 1900

There is little information on Van Buren's life and professional career following her education at the Academy. No paintings by Van Buren are known to survive.[3]:348

She entered into a Boston marriage with fellow student Eva Watson-Schütze. The two of them opened a studio and art gallery in Atlantic City, New Jersey, but Van Buren disliked having to make compromises in her aesthetic sense in order to sell any paintings, so she turned to photography instead.[6] Both women were recognized as accomplished artists and exhibited together at the Camera Club of Pittsburgh in 1899,[7] and Van Buren was noted for her portraits, once declaring her goal was to make portraits "to stand with [those of] Sargent and Watts and the other masters".[8]

A photograph of Van Buren by Thomas Eakins.

It is known that by 1900, when she sent some prints to Frances Benjamin Johnston (including the one shown to the right), she had moved back to Detroit.[7] She had the portrait of herself in her possession, likely a gift from the artist himself, which she sold to the Phillips Memorial Gallery in 1927,[9] by which time she was living in North Carolina.[10]

In the early 1930s Lloyd Goodrich, who was writing the first full-length biography of Eakins, wrote to Van Buren. However, she replied that she had no particular reminiscences of Eakins.[3]:348 Van Buren spent her later years in an artists' colony in Tryon, North Carolina, where she died in 1942.[5]:422


  1. ^ Records of Van Buren's life vary regarding her year of birth. Her tombstone says 1854,[1] the census records for 1870 and 1900 say 1856, and other sources place it at 1858.[2]:142


  1. ^ "Tryon Cemetery, Section 1". USGenWeb. Archived from the original on 7 September 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-24. 
  2. ^ a b Dixon, Laurinda S.; Weisberg, Gabriel P. (2004). In sickness and in health: disease as metaphor in art and popular wisdom. University of Delaware Press. ISBN 0-87413-857-4. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Adams, Henry (2005). Eakins revealed: the secret life of an American artist. Oxford University Press US. ISBN 0-19-515668-4. 
  4. ^ Sewell, Darrel (2001). Thomas Eakins. Yale University Press. p. 260. ISBN 0-87633-143-6. 
  5. ^ a b Kirkpatrick, Sidney (2006). The revenge of Thomas Eakins. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-10855-9. 
  6. ^ Sandler, Martin W. (2002). Against the Odds: Women Pioneers in the First Hundred Years of Photography. Rizzoli International Publications. pp. 61–62. ISBN 0-8478-2304-0. 
  7. ^ a b Rosenblum, Naomi (1994). A History of Women Photographers. Abbeville Press. p. 323. ISBN 1-55859-761-1. 
  8. ^ Cotkin, George (2004). Reluctant modernism: American thought and culture, 1880-1900. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 0-7425-3147-3. 
  9. ^ "Eakins in the Collection". The Phillips Collection. Retrieved 2010-08-22. 
  10. ^ Wilmerding, John (1993). Thomas Eakins. Smithsonian Institution Press. p. 121. ISBN 1-56098-313-2. 

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