Wrestlers is a composition of 1899 by Thomas Eakins (Goodrich catalog #317-319). The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) owns the finished oil painting and an oil sketch. The Philadelphia Museum of Art has a somewhat smaller, unfinished version in oils. All depict two nearly naked men engaged in a wrestling match. One figure has the other in a half nelson and crotch hold. Eakins painted the work from the models and a nearly identical photograph. The men are shown at the Quaker City Barge Club, which once stood on Philadelphia's Boathouse Row.
The finished version (Goodrich catalog G-317) joined the LACMA collection in 2006, long after the oil sketch (Goodrich catalog G-318), which came in the 1920s. Philadelphia's unfinished version (G-319), acquired in 1926, is thought to be an abandoned version of the work, rather than a study for G-317, being painted before either LACMA work.
Eakins was elected an academician of the National Academy of Design in 1902. He donated the finished version of Wrestlers (G-317) as a reception piece or "diploma picture," along with a self-portrait. The Academy deaccessioned Wrestlers in 1968, and sold it in 1970 to the Columbus Museum of Art. It was part of the Columbus, Ohio museum's permanent collection until 2005, when it was deaccessioned to raise funds for the purchase of the Philip J. and Suzanne Schiller collection of American art. The oil sketch had been in the permanent collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art since the 1920s. Patron Cecile Bartman funded LACMA's 2006 purchase of the finished painting, so the two works would be reunited.
The unfinished painting was bought in 1926 by Philadelphia Museum of Art President Fiske Kimball, who later donated it to the museum, where it remains today. According to Kimball's reminiscences, Cranmer (who was acting as the dealer for Mrs. Eakins) said the abandoned version had been valued low, and had not been included in the Thomas Eakins memorial exhibitions. "He said he would find out the price. It was $400. I bought it and by Christmas 1926 it was hanging in the library at Lemon Hill." Letters from Cranmer to Kimball in the PMA Archives identify the wrestler on top as Joseph McCann but do not identify the man on the bottom.
The photograph that was used as a study for the painting was probably taken on Monday, May 22, 1899, in Eakins's studio on the fourth floor of his father's house at 1729 Mount Vernon Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The prior Friday, Eakins had written to his friend, sportswriter Clarence Cranmer, asking for assistance in posing the athletes. Eakins's protégé Samuel Murray modeled a small sculpture of the wrestlers, that is also dated 1899.
- Fort, pp. 395-402.
- TE to Cranmer, May 19, 1899; cited in an August 29, 1931 letter from Cranmer to Fiske Kimball in the PMA Archives. Siegl, p. 149.
- Ilene Susan Fort, "Wither the Wrestlers?" American Quarterly, vol. 62, no. 2 (June 2010).
- Theodor Siegl, The Thomas Eakins Collection: The Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA, 1978), pp. 149-50.
- Wrestlers (G-317) at LACMA
- Study for Wrestlers (G-318), LACMA
- Wrestlers (G-319) at the Philadelphia Museum of Art