Exhibitions: HIDE/SEEK: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture

Thomas Eakins: Walt Whitman

When Walt Whitman first published Leaves of Grass in 1855, he found the source for American vitality in a democracy rooted in the connection between its people and nature. Whitman’s refusal to accept the existence of boundaries and limits on the body, as well as the mind, is the most radical statement ever of American individualism. Expansively omnisexual in his writings, Whitman spent the Civil War years and after with his lover, Peter Doyle, a Confederate deserter. Inspired by the comradeship engendered between men under fire, Whitman celebrated love and affection between men in poems he collected under the titles “Drum Taps” and “Calamus.” Just as society’s attitudes were consolidating into a rigid division that outlawed the homosexual, Whitman’s poetry and his life proclaimed that the possibilities of desire were not so easily characterized and contained.