Reproduction of Portrait of
Eakins's portrait of Professor Benjamin Howard Rand painted in 1874 shows the reticent chemist at home working alone in his study. Dr. Rand's activities are private and his thoughts are turned inward.
Benjamin H. Rand was Eakins's first sitter outside his circle of family and close friends, and his first physician subject. But there were personal connections between chemist and artist: both men were avid scullers and both of their fathers were professional calligraphers. They had been acquainted at Central High School where Rand was Eakins's chemistry teacher. Rand later became the chair of chemistry at the Franklin Institute, the Philadelphia Medical College, and then from 1864 to 1877 at Jefferson Medical College. An 1848 alumnus of Jefferson, Rand was the dean from 1869 until 1877 when ill health forced him to retire at age fifty.
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.
The murky interior space is very shallow and largely undescribed architecturally except for a bookcase on the left. The prevailing dark, neutral tones are punctuated by daylight entering the room on a raking angle from the right, highlighting Rand's face, shirt front, and objects on the desk, and suffusing the room with a warm glow.
There is a wry humor in the presence of the cat and his proprietary stance, the organized clutter of incongruously juxtaposed objects on the desk, and the self-effacing position of the protagonist behind the massive desk. He wears a white vest but no necktie and his shirt front is wrinkled, suggesting that he might have just returned home from a social evening. The physician is so preoccupied that his eyes seem unfocused, while the cat engagingly makes direct eye contact with the viewer.
Dr. Rand's portrait was accepted for display at the Philadelphia Centennial's art exhibition. Upon his retirement the following year, Professor Rand proudly donated the painting to Jefferson Medical College.