Thomas Eakins displayed an unusual degree of confidence in portraying the chemistry professor boldly, unconventionally, and with kindly humor. The physician is positioned on the far side of an expansive desk that bisects the composition horizontally. The solemn scholar is so engrossed in his work that he ignores the viewer and gazes downward. One hand points to a passage in an open book. His other hand awkwardly strokes the arched back of a gray cat which insouciantly rests a front paw on the book and interrupts Dr. Rand's reading. At first glance it is difficult to detect this congenial house pet because of its dark gray color and the prevailing darkness of the room. Eventually its upright tail, proprietary stance, bright red collar, and direct outward stare engage the viewer's attention.
The bespectacled professor's self-effacing posture and locale prompt most viewers to scrutinize the desk top first. Its surface is crowded with an array of gleaming objects, ranging from the scientific and academic to the personal and domestic. Brightly highlighted brass instruments on the left include a compound microscope and a spectroscope. Behind is a wooden rack with test tubes, and to the right of this group a red, graduated, pharmaceutical cylinder with a spatula. Reading materials and quills are strewn about left and center.
On the far right is a bright pink rose, and a sheet of crinkled, cool-white tissue paper hanging over the edge of the desk. Blurred forms behind appear to be a perpetual calendar and some fruit. A brilliant pink tasseled shawl or afghan drapes over a chair in front of the desk. A red-figured oriental rug lies under the desk near a wicker trash basket and a heaped-up fur rug.