No Ordinary Princess

...anything but ordinary...

Sunday, November 19, 2006

More on Eakins' "The Gross Clinic"

As I suspected might happen, there is a movement afoot in Philadelphia, spurred by local art and civic organizations, to keep Thomas Eakins' The Gross Clinic here in the city. Two major influences behind this move are the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where Eakins studied.

Here is the article from today's Philadelphia Inquirer, posted below in case it disappears into archive hell:

Work in progress: Will the art stay?

By Stephan Salisbury
Inquirer Culture Writer

A coalition of cultural institutions, foundations, city officials and individuals - led by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts - has been formed in an effort to keep Thomas Eakins' masterpiece, The Gross Clinic, in the city.

Organizers have also established a fund for donations and a hotline for those seeking information on the effort.

The painting, created in 1875 and depicting renowned surgeon Samuel Gross performing a difficult and bloody operation, was sold by Thomas Jefferson University on Nov. 10 for $68 million to a partnership consisting of an unbuilt Arkansas museum, backed by Wal-Mart heirs, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

Jefferson, which has owned the painting since it was donated by alumni in 1878, has given local institutions until Dec. 26 to match the sale price.

"If they match it, it's theirs," Robert L. Barchi, Jefferson's president, said at the time of the sale.

"I think we're rolling here," Anne d'Harnoncourt, director and chief executive officer of the Art Museum, said yesterday. "There have been some wonderful offers of support, large and small."

Donald Caldwell, chairman of the Pennsylvania Academy, said the coalition was "still fleshing out how the expression or desire to help will translate into terms of dollars."

Mayor Street said he was encouraged by the local effort, adding that "retaining The Gross Clinic will underscore" the importance of the arts in the fabric of city life "and ensure a place in the heart of our city for this treasured painting."

Both Caldwell and d'Harnoncourt said it was too soon to say how much money might be in the pipeline.

"I don't think we can be more specific, because we don't have permission," said Caldwell, regarding other organizations and individuals involved in the effort.

The decision by Jefferson to sell the painting came as a surprise to students, faculty and alumni, as well as to the city at large, and has sparked considerable controversy.

Jefferson officials argue that the 10-year strategic plan they hope to partially fund through the sale of the painting will transform the Center City campus and surrounding neighborhood.

Critics contend that the painting, on display at Alumni Hall, on the 1000 block of Locust Street, depicts a founding father of the university and is indelibly bound to the identity of the entire community.

"This painting ties all of medicine together," Gerald Herbison, a Jefferson professor, said when he learned of the sale. "Eakins, as a Philadelphia painter, ties Philadelphia medicine to the city. It is medicine at its best, in a community known for medicine at its best, in a medical institution with roots going back to 1800."

Eakins, who lived virtually his entire life in Philadelphia, was a student at the academy and then taught there before being asked to resign by prudish administrators upset by his use of a nude male model in classes with female students.

Eakins also studied anatomy at Jefferson with Gross and viewed the surgeon as a heroic figure, said Kathleen Foster, curator of American art at the Art Museum.

Eakins is "totally connected to Philadelphia," said Larry Francis, a painter who teaches at the academy.

D'Harnoncourt said the challenge of raising such a large amount of money in such a short period was daunting, but "it's not impossible."

"By working together, our city may be able to preserve Eakins' greatest work in Philadelphia," she said.

"It is imperative that The Gross Clinic remains here, and we are working together to find a way to make that happen," Caldwell said. "This has got to be a community effort."

How to Give

Tax-deductible donations to the Fund for Eakins' Masterpiece can be made online at; checks payable to the Fund for Eakins' Masterpiece may be sent to Fund for Eakins' Masterpiece, c/o the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Box 7646, Philadelphia, Pa. 19101-7646. There is also a Fund for Eakins' Masterpiece hotline for information at 215-684-7762.

Contact culture writer Stephan Salisbury at 215-854-5594 or

This is an old city with many deep pockets full of old money. I sure hope some of them come through for this Philadelphia icon. Please note that, should you be interested in donating to the cause of keeping The Gross Clinic in Philly, there are ways to do that. Information is included at the end of the article.

I will consider throwing the pittance I can afford in the direction of the painting, though it would be a very small drop in a $68 million bucket. What we need are some big, Philadelphia foundations or philanthropic individuals to step forward if this masterpiece is to remain in the city where it was painted.

C'mon, Main Line! Get behind this one, please? December 26th is a few, short weeks away!

tags: art / culture / history / medical history / medicine / Philadelphia


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