22 Days: “A Fierce Moment”
Before attending curator Kathy Foster’s excellent talk “Ten Reasons to keep Eakins’ Gross Clinic in Philadelphia” we visited the Eakins Gallery at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Among 20 pictures in the main room hangs the 1875 Gross Clinic study. As noted earlier, Eakins was charged up by what he had accomplished on this 26 by 22 inch canvas: “What elates me more is that I have just got a new picture blocked in & it is very far better than anything I have ever done.”
We see what he meant. Eakins had solved the basic “design idea” (a favorite term of the late Ed Bacon) playing off the themes of white light, red blood and brown shadow. Gross is fully wrought; his four colleagues and patient are in place. The female figure off to the side is not yet animated and the spectators are only represented by brown and black daubs. But the idea was formed. It was powerful and clear with a life of its own. The museum acquired the study 77 years ago — and is not going anywhere. But it is well worth the visit to better understand what’s at stake.
The Clinic study hangs between two other of Eakins’ most interesting works from the 1870s: The Pair Oared Shell and William Rush Carving his Allegorical Figure of the Schuylkill River, both of which in the gift to the museum in 1929 and 1930 from Eakins’ widow and a family friend.
Is there a theme here? Each picture shows a real Philadelphia scene with real people doing what they do best. Its a story of men and their blades: an oar, a chisel, a scalpel. And, of course, it is the story of a man and his paintbrush before he was forced to taste, as Eakins put it in 1894 “misunderstanding, persecution and neglect.”
Foster, who describes this campaign to keep The Gross Clinic as “a fierce moment” (language reminiscent of the “culture wars”) presents this free talk again at the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Van Pelt Auditorium on Thursday December 7th at 11AM.