The Dean's Roll Call

Thomas Eakins (American, 1844–1916)


213.68 x 106.68 cm (84 1/8 x 42 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Oil on canvas

On View

Barbara and Theodore Alfond Gallery (Gallery 234)





Throughout his career, Thomas Eakins cultivated and maintained an intellectual and professional relationship with the Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, the city in which he lived and worked. This affiliation included Eakins’s enrollment in anatomy classes and the commissions he received for portraits of noted faculty and alumni—including his most revered work, Portrait of Dr. Samuel D. Gross (The Gross Clinic) (1875, Philadelphia Museum of Art/Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts), depicting the acclaimed professor of surgery. Eakins frequently solicited his own sitters for portraits, preferring intellectuals, educators, and community leaders as his subjects and thus aligning himself within his own professional middle class. The Dean’s Roll Call illustrates both of these attributes, since Eakins actively sought the commission to paint the prominent Dean of Jefferson Medical College.

Dr. James William Holland, born in Tennessee, was a noted urologist and an alumnus of Jefferson Medical School. In 1885, when Holland was a professor in Louisville, Kentucky, he was invited to take a position in Philadelphia as Professor of Medical Chemistry and Toxicology at Jefferson Medical College. The following year, he was appointed Dean of the School of Medicine, a position he held for thirty years. Approached by Eakins to model for a full-length portrait, Holland agreed to pose in academic dress; the style of the gown and its green trim indicate his academic rank and field of study. His wide-legged stance implies a steady personality and solidity of presence, appropriate for a man of importance. Holland’s spread hands mimic the splay of his feet; he holds a yellow calfskin portfolio containing the roster of names of Jefferson’s graduating students. Typically, Eakins depicted Holland engaged in a professional task, reading from the text in front of him. Holland is in the process of either calling out the names or reading aloud the Hippocratic Oath; both were his responsibility during the College’s Commencement ceremony. According to scholar Lloyd Goodrich, Eakins initially requested that Dr. Holland pose for the portrait in old, worn shoes. [1] However, Mrs. Holland persuaded Eakins that this would not be a realistic rendering of the dean, who always wore new shoes for the Commencement ceremony. Thus, Holland’s shoes are freshly shined in the final portrait.

The realism of Dr. Holland’s body and his lined face are characteristic of Eakins’s emphasis on the anatomical believability of his portraits. Holland, with feet spread evenly and shoulders back, is firmly grounded within the space of the picture; the weight of his body is believably solid and alive. Eakins emphasizes the realism of his painted space with his perspectively rendered signature, which sits upon the slope of the floor in the lower right. Unromanticized, Holland is shown as tired and serious, with a face somewhat gaunt and eyes which express anxiety or fatigue. Pictured in an odd moment of silence, he gazes off into the distance, perhaps reviewing the line of students coming towards him. In a letter written to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, upon the acquisition of the portrait, Holland’s son recalled:
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The sittings began about January and lasted perhaps two months or more. My father was never physically very strong and by that season of the year was always pretty fagged out. What made it worse was that Eakins always insisted that he take the full standing pose, with the light from the skylight full on his face. He would not let him sit down even when working on the head alone. It was quite an ordeal and the result was a tense almost haggard expression. [2]
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Due perhaps in part to Holland’s careworn appearance, Jefferson Medical College declined Eakins’s proposal to purchase the portrait. Instead, they commissioned Adolph Borie, a member of the Cornish Colony of painters centered around Cornish, New Hampshire, to depict Dr. Holland; Borie’s likeness hangs today in the office suite of the dean of the college. With Jefferson’s refusal of his work, Eakins gave the portrait to Mrs. Holland in 1900 with the stipulation that “if at any time the trustees of the Jefferson Medical College may wish to purchase the picture, Mrs. Holland’s ownership of it will not be a bar to selling it.”[3]In that same year, the portrait was displayed at the annual exhibition of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Widely exhibited over the following decades, the picture remained in the collection of the Holland family until 1943, when it was bought by the Museum of Fine Arts from the sitter’s children. It was the first full-length portrait by Eakins to enter the Museum’s collection and is a characteristic example of the penetrating psychological portraits of professional men that Eakins painted during his later years.

1. Lloyd Goodrich, Thomas Eakins (Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1982), 115.
2. Leicester B. Holland to William George Constable, October 24, 1943, curatorial files, Department of Art of the Americas, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
3. Kathleen A. Foster and Cheryl Leibold, Writing about Eakins: The Manuscripts in Charles Bregler’s Thomas Eakins Collection (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1980), 180.

Naomi H. Slipp


Lower right: Eakins/1899.


1899, painted by the artist in the hope that the Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia, would purchase this portrait of its dean; when the college rejected the finished painting, the artist gave it to the sitter's wife, Mrs. James W. Holland, Philadelphia; by descent to their children, Rupert Sargent Holland, Lucy Sargent Holland Putnam, and Leicester Bodine Holland; 1943, sold by Rupert Sargent Holland, Lucy Sargent Holland Putnam, and Leicester Bodine Holland to the MFA for $15,000. (Accession Date: September 9, 1943)

Credit Line

A. Shuman Collection—Abraham Shuman Fund