15 Days: About Brotherly Love

The Philadelphia RecordLast week, Sister Mary Scullion raised an important issue.  “The civic uproar over the pending sale of Thomas Eakins’ The Gross Clinic for $68 million raises complex questions about our society’s priorities and values.”

“Each day in our city,” writes Sister Mary in a Philadelphia Inquirer oped piece, “many people do without the basic necessities for themselves and their families.”

The more things change, the more they remain the same. 

In the depths of the Great Depression, the Philadelphia Museum of Art purchased another 7-by-8-foot canvas, Paul Cézanne’s The Large Bathers.  The price: a record $110,000.  At the time, more than 40,000 Philadelphia families (one in ten) lacked bathtubs.  The Philadelphia Record noted that the money “would buy bathtubs for nearly half of these bathtubless dwellings.” Cartoonist Jerry Doyle depicted William Penn holding out the canvas and saying: “Look it! I bought you a pretty picture.”

Taunting also came from Albert Barnes, who claimed to have turned down the same picture for $80,000.  Barnes bought another in Cézanne’s Bathers series.

Seventy years later, tourism folks identify The Bathers in Philadelphia and Merion as the best we have. But, as good as they are, do the Cézannes represent who we are?

In the end, Sister Mary suggests “the controversy over this painting should not pit the arts against human needs” and “the best outcome” is to keep The Gross Clinic in Philadelphia.  Its presence will “enlighten us to the necessity of investing in health care with an emphasis on those who are left behind.” 

From what we know of him, Eakins would agree. The Philadelphia Record would agree. Even Barnes would agree. Sister Mary’s point is about the soul of a city, our city, a place whose very name is “Brotherly Love.”

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4 Comments on “15 Days: About Brotherly Love”


  1. I could not agree more about investing $ into the health of our most disenfranchised. But it is very important to understand that organized medicine generally in Philadelphia is not public health and prevention oriented. It is a business that emphasizes expensive high tech/high profit treatments more of which I am not at all sure we need?

    Below is my response to Sister Scullion. She sent me a very supportive response.

    Sister Scullion;

    Thank you and God bless you for your remarkable leadership on behalf of Philadelphia’s disenfranchised homeless and mentally ill.

    However your commentary in Thursday’s Philadelphia Inquirer on care vs.art misses the mark.

    You give Jefferson far to much credit for “innovative health care programs for the most vulnerable Philadelphians”

    Where is Jefferson’s School of Public Health? Where is Jefferson’s emphasis on disease prevention? Where is Jefferson’s political advocacy for some level health care for all Americans? (including all Philadelphians)

    Sister Scullion- The head of the most prestigious medical research institute in the world- Dr Elias Zerhouni from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) declared this past summer that “a treatment based health care system is not economically sustainable.” As far as I know Jefferson has not embraced that statement in its own planning?

    Your leadership is one of great compassion. You are absolutely correct about the need to care for Philadelphia’s disenfranchised despite our high cost, high profit disease treatment business oriented healthcare model. The Eakins painting dollars that Jefferson will accrue, however, will not be utilzed to reflect your own morality nor advance the morality your programs embody. Conversely the dollars will be used to advance the march expensive high tech medicine for profit with a failed end game for all.

    My very best wishes to you and your colleagues as we approach the holiday season

    Sincerely,

    Richard. A. Lippin MD
    Southampton, Pa
    ralippin@aol.com
    http://www.ricklippin.com

  2. RMUTT Says:

    Excellent and interesting post Mr. Finkle.

    I agree that The Gross Clinic should remain in Philadelphia.
    In fact, it should remain at Jefferson where it belongs.
    Likewise the Barnes foundation should stay in Merion.
    But this is far from a perfect world.

    Unfortunately it would take much more than 68 million dollars to solve the basic problems of this blood thirsty city that harvests something like a homicide a day. Young black men mostly.

    As for you Mr. Lippin, you really don’t know what you are talking about. Thomas Jefferson Univeristy Hospital, like every other inner city hospital in the country, spends dramatic sums of money caring for this city’s poor and homeless. How much do most philadlephians spend? How much to PAFA and PMA spend? How much do you spend?


  3. RMUTT-

    The US Health Care system is badly broken. Pennsylvania’s and Philadelphia’s worse than most.

    Jefferson either knows that and doesn’t care or it doesn’t know it which I doubt.

    Be Well,

    Dr. Rick Lippin
    Southampton,Pa


  4. […] us of the cartoon by Jerry Doyle from 1937, when The Philadelphia Record editorialized against the city’s recent […]


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