21 Days: The Third Strike
We’ve always heard talk of earlier attempts to pry The Gross Clinic from its moorings at Jefferson, but we never knew any detail. Then we ran across an old, yellowed clipping.
On March 25, 1976, Adrian Lee of The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin wrote that Jefferson had rejected a $1 million offer for the painting in 1969. But he had a more dramatic number to report. Lee had gotten wind of a new offer: a $30 million building in exchange for the painting. After “two stormy, back to back meetings,” in December 1975 and January 1976, Jefferson held a “secret vote.” Sixty eight voted to keep the painting. Only seven voted to sell it.
Who was this would-be buyer? Both times it was no less than Paul Mellon, trustee of the National Galley of Art in Washington, D.C. — the very same institution today teamed up with Crystal Bridges.
Philadelphia had a rough time of its Bicentennial summer, what with the outbreak of Legionairre’s Disease and Mayor Frank L. Rizzo’s calling for the National Guard to avert would-be protests. But the Eakins was a star in the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Bicentennial exhibition Philadelphia: Three Centuries of American Art.
As Adrian Lee said it three decades ago: “The Gross Clinic, with its blacks and greys, stays in Philadelphia.”