Singing a Pathetic Song
For this domestic scene, his most ambitious, Eakins invited two of his Pennsylvania Academy students to act out a home musicale. Margaret Alexina Harrison sings and Susan Hannah Macdowell (whom Eakins would marry in 1884) plays the piano in a nondescript parlor, where they are joined by the accomplished Philadelphia cellist Charles Stolte. Eakins created an arrangement that would handicap an actual chamber ensemble by enlarging the pianist and placing the cellist behind her, where he cannot make eye contact with his fellow performers. By simplifying the composition and focusing on the singer, who holds a note—apparently of a "pathetic song" that could move a listener to tears—Eakins transcends a specific moment in a particular parlor to tell an emblematic story of the power of music. Thomas Cowperthwait Eakins (July 25, 1844 – June 25, 1916) was an American realist painter, photographer, sculptor, and fine arts educator.