The cost of the closet, and the personal price of society's antigay strictures, are everywhere in the unhappy life of Thomas Eakins (1844-1916). Reviewing a recent biography of him by Pulitzer Prize winner William McFeely, Publishers Weekly wrote
Eakins had a fortunate early life, with art studies in Paris and Spain, a sympathetic wife and a promising career at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Nevertheless, he suffered from a sense of failure, bouts of depression and conflicted feelings about his attraction to men. McFeely sees the painting Swimming [top], in particular, as indicative of Eakins's unfulfilled longings, but also of more than that: the image of the artist and five of his male students swimming in the nude embodies Eakins's Thoreauvian conviction that happiness can be found in freedom from society's constraints, in living at one with nature. Eakins never achieved this freedom, however. In 1886, he was asked to resign from the academy, probably because of his homosexuality and his insistence on using nude models in his life drawing classes, and his life became one of increasing despair.
Eakins was one of the first painters to take an interest in photography and especially liked shooting male nudes, so in their 19th century sepia way, many of these clickable images are NSFW. Included are nude boxers, the nude tug-of-war, and the infamous full frontal nude of an aged Walt Whitman.