Eakins Countdown: 40 Days

The Gross ClinicIt’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.

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6 Comments on “Eakins Countdown: 40 Days”

  1. MD Says:

    I think that Jefferson alumni should step up and be the primary contributer of funds. The thousands of graduates, presumbably most who are now affluent practitioners, should be able to come up with a workable solution. Someone give ’em a call!!
    MD

  2. sgriffit Says:

    I agree that the alumni are our best hope — if only because they have the deepest pockest and the strongest incentive to retain their iconic painting. But I would welcome a city-wide fund-raising effort. It probably wouldn’t being nearly enough but would show that ordinary people care as well. I emailed the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Monday offering to donate $100 and haven’t received a response yet.

  3. LH Says:

    If the Jefferson alumni were able to simply give the university $68 million, then the painting wouldn’t have been sold in the first place; funds for the school’s expansion could have been raised by a generic capital campaign.

  4. sgriffit Says:

    Agreed, LH, but this isn’t an ordinary capital campaign situation. It’s more akin to someone holding a treasured icon hostage — unless alumni cough up $68 million, they won’t see it again. It is possible that the Eakins is meaningful enough to a large enough number of alumni that they would want to buy back a painting that they gave the school originally. I wouldn’t want to be in charge of future fundraising, however.

  5. J. Craig Maue Says:

    Cincinnat Art Museum rallied to purchase Thomas Eakins portrait of Archbishop Purcell, when the Church sold off the Archbishops Palace in College Hill suberb of Cincinnat about 15 years ago. I hope Philadelphia can rally to keep the “Gross Clinic” in the city where it belongs. Let’s not reject Eakins once again — he suffered too much rejection in life..


  6. […] to keep (or lose) Thomas Eakins’ painting, The Gross Clinic. On November 16th I published the first in a series entitled “Eakins Countdown” in an effort to help keep the painting in […]


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