Friday, November 10, 2006

Keep Eakins' "Gross Clinic" in Philadelphia

Thomas Eakins
"Gross Clinic"
96"x78" oil on canvas 1875
-image courtesy Thomas Jefferson University

The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, founded by the Wal-Mart heiress Alice L. Walton and under construction in Bentonville, Arkansas, is trying to pry away another important painting from its longstanding home. Carol Vogel in the New York Times reports that Thomas Jefferson University - a medical school in Philadelphia - has decided to sell the work which was purchased for $200 by University alumni in 1878. The proposed sale price is $68 million and the painting would be shared between the National Gallery of Art in Washington and the not yet completed Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

Crystal Bridges' recent plunder of Asher B. Durand's "Kindred Spirits" from the New York Public Library set a poor precedent.

Asher B. Durand
"Kindred Spirits"
44"x36" oil on canvas 1849
formerly in the collection of the New York Public Library

Carol Vogel goes on to report that Thomas Jefferson University seems to be "mindful of potential objections from residents of Philadelphia, Eakins’s lifelong home,[and] has given local museums and government institutions 45 days to match the offer."

"Anne d’Harnoncourt, director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, said she would immediately explore the possibility, perhaps in tandem with the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art. “It’s a painting that really belongs in Philadelphia — his presence still resonates here,” she said of Eakins’s masterwork. “There may be a way we could band together to make it happen.”

I am in on this one and hope that the Philadelphia Museum will accept offers from around the country to help keep "The Gross Clinic" in Philadelphia.

Thomas Eakins
"Gross Clinic"
96"x78" oil on canvas 1875
-image courtesy Thomas Jefferson University

More at:
New York Times on the Gross Clinic

In Philadelphia they are aghast at the news-
"This is our cultural heritage. We cannot let it be bought.

If we sell it, we are selling Philadelphia's future. Would we allow the Liberty Bell to be bought? This is no different.

Philadelphia is the home of the first hospital, founded by no less than Ben Franklin. A tradition grew out of that, a tradition that is summarized by this painting. We have a rich history of medicine that will be plundered by the sale of this art."
-from Phillyville

And the alumni from Thomas Jefferson University are livid:
"Isn't this a little like selling your soul to the devil? Couldn't Jeff issue bonds in the usual fashion and go into debt like any respectable university?

Says Bob Barchi (University President), "We're not a museum. We're not in the business of art education" and in two sentences betrays his failing grade on his Two Cultures book report , a crushing ignorance of the centrality of art to the human experience, and spins Jefferson's expansion as an Eakins rejection redux.

Heroic myth writ large (Homer) or small (Rocky Balboa, Luke Skywalker) inspires great things in real life, just as Eakins painting of Gross has inspired countless artists, physicians and patients. It is arguably Philadelphia's David. But Philadelphia is not Florence, and the Jefferson Board no Medici."
Is Art Important to Medicine?


Anonymous said...

I am both saddened and angered by this potential loss. It has always been very special to me to work at a place where I could view a world-class piece of art that was about a former faculty member -- without even leaving the campus. Even better that the famous painter was a "local". I don't know if it is like selling one's soul to the devil, but it is selling one's soul. And, by the way, the painting would only be at the National Gallery until sometime in 2009. Once the museum Crystal Bridges is completed, the painting will "live" in the museum in Bentonville, Arkansas. Sorry, folks, it's hard to argue that more people will see this special painting at a museusm in Arkansas than in a building in Center City. And, yes, I have been to Bentonville, and it does not pass as a major metropolitan area. Just for the record, even though no one has asked-- Jefferson employees and faculty received an email about the sale on Saturday morning-- after I had already read the article in the Inquirer. We knew nothing about it and were not consulted. :(
--Sad and soon to be soul-less in Philly

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your support in out effort to keep this painting in Philadelphia. Please note that everyone who supports us can help by making a donation to a fund specifically to purchase the painting:
Though a mass-based drive is unlikely to raise a large share of the $68 million needed, it will help, and will send a powerful message about public concern to stop this kind of plundering of American art.

Sidney D. Kirkpatrick said...

I am personally pleased, delighted, and relieved to have the painting remain in Philadelphia. As the author of the widely regarded recent biography of the artist, "The Revenge of Thomas Eakins," I am keenly aware of the context in which this Eakins masterpiece was created. Eakins has, suffice it to say, exacted his "revenge." He has become indispensable to the city's idea of itself as a cultural landmark. In my mind's eye I can imagine Eakins standing in the Philadelphia traffic circle honoring him, shaking his paint brush at passing cars, and shouting, “There, you see, I told you I was good!”