In this canvas Thomas Eakins shows William Rush carving one of his many public sculptures--an allegorical figure of the Schuylkill River done in 1808 for Philadelphia's first waterworks. Other works by Rush, including a life-sized figure of George Washington and his Allegory of the Waterworks (on view in the Museum), are visible in the dim background of the shop and constitute a survey of the venerable artist's career. Eakins made this painting just as he was beginning his years at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts as a charismatic but controversial teacher, notorious for his insistence on the study of the nude as the basis for all art. It is highly unlikely that Rush had employed a nude model for his draped figure, but in this exquisite historical fabrication Eakins employs the impeccable reputation of the distinguished Philadelphia sculptor to justify his own practices. The unidealized but sympathetically observed and beautifully painted figure of the nude woman stands as a manifesto of Eakins's beliefs about the goal of art.
Darrel Sewell, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections (1995), p. 287