Born in South Carolina, but raised in a number of southern communities including Charlotte, North Carolina, Eugene Thomason studied at the Art Students League in New York City under George Bridgman, Frank DuMond and John Sloan, and at the Grand Central School with Wayman Adams. During his second year at the League, Thomason was befriended by George Luks, who invited the younger painter to join him in the operation of a school for advanced students. For the next decade, the two artists lived together intermittently, shared a studio, and jointly administered the school. Thomason was fascinated with the unconventional lifestyle of Luks and his circle, and some of his paintings depict their activities. In one of the most amusing, Aunt Emma with Baby, Luks, clad in female attire, gazes tenderly at a baby perched on his lap.
In the late 1920s, inspired by the example of Robert Henri, Thomason spent four months painting fishermen and waifs in Ireland. In the early 1930s, he returned to North Carolina. Following a period of time in Charlotte, he married a musician and built a house in the Appalachian region near Lake James. There Thomason formulated the concept “Hankins,” a composite family representing his perceptions of characteristics of the mountain people. In the 1940s he settled near the village of Nebo, and devoted his last thirty years to painting the local landscape and to executing the portraits of the Appalachians. Dubbed “The Ashcan Artist of Appalachia”, Thomason’s post-New York pictures share stylistic similarities with the contemporaneous works of Thomas Hart Benton, the leading interpreter of rural America.
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