Eakins Countdown: 40 Days
It’s a huge question. It’s a 68 million dollar question, but really more than that. Over the next forty days—between now and December 26th—Philadelphians will decide to keep or lose Thomas Eakins’ The Gross Clinic.
From the moment of its conception in 1875, this 8 by 7 foot canvas was meant to be a great and defining work for Philadelphia—and for the nation. The artist knew it when he wrote that “it was far better than anything I have ever done.” A critic knew it when he declared: “This portrait of Dr. Gross is a great work—we know of nothing greater that has ever been executed in America.” After exhibition at three World’s Fairs: Philadelphia in 1876; Chicago in 1893; and Saint Louis in 1904, The Gross Clinic has resided at Jefferson Medical College (now Thomas Jefferson University). On occasion it was lent, but until 2006 outright sale was simply out of the question.
Now that is the question. After 130 years, the University has negotiated a sale for this “Holy Grail of American Painting.” And as the question looms, it poses a watershed moment for America’s most historic and artistic city. The challenge to Philadelphians’ hearts and minds goes directly to its spirit and identity—its sense of purpose and place. But most of all, it is a challenge to Philadelphia’s ability to secure $68 million in days that numbered 45 when the deal was first announced.
Today the Eakins Countdown stands at 40 days. Over this brief stretch of time, this blog, which we are calling The Sixth Square, will serve as a convener of ideas, a framer of issues, and a source of facts relevant to this important civic conversation. We hope you find it informative and useful.