Edward H. Coates (director) 1873
Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts
Mechanics’ Bank director Edward H. Coates was a businessman and art patron most notable for his association with Thomas Eakins, perhaps the greatest American realist painter.
As chairman of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts’ Committee on Instruction, Coates was influential in appointing Eakins as director and supported reforms like teaching anatomy from live, nude models instead of plaster casts. Giving students a real life form to study as opposed to man-made models was unheard of at this time and was a truly revolutionary step in anatomical study. In 1883, the two also served together on the University of Pennsylvania’s committee to oversee the photographer Eadweard Muybridge’s pioneering studies of human and animal movement. This was yet another amazing breakthrough in the study of the human form, photography and film.
However, Coates soon grew uneasy with Eakins’ practices, especially his use of nude student models. In 1885, Coates commissioned “The Swimming Hole,” but rejected the final product for its explicit and eroticized portrayal of specific people, including several of Coates’ friends. The following year, Eakins was fired for removing a curtain from a male model in front of female students.
Coates continued to work at the Academy of Fine Arts until his death in 1921. Many of the paintings he commissioned are still at the Academy as well as many other institutions of art around the world.
His brother, George M. Coates, was also a director of the bank.