Thomas Eakins’s The Gross Clinic
Portrait of Dr. Samuel D. Gross (The Gross Clinic), acclaimed as the greatest American painting of the nineteenth century, has been an icon of Philadelphia since it was painted in 1875. The masterpiece of the young Thomas Eakins, an artist born and educated in Philadelphia, this painting sparked both controversy and praise at its first showing here in Philadelphia at the Centennial Exhibition in 1876, demonstrating the drama and force of character that set the tone for Eakins’s entire career. His masterful realism and his insistence on painting from modern American life shocked his contemporaries. More than a century later, his paintings of Schuylkill River oarsmen, Delaware River fishermen, and local painters, poets, priests, scientists, and educators have indelibly shaped a sense of Philadelphia’s identity—and its excellence in many professional fields. Recognized in Eakins’s lifetime as his greatest work, The Gross Clinic has gained stature since his death in 1916 as one of the most often reproduced, discussed, and celebrated paintings in American art history. In Philadelphia, it has come to represent the spirit and accomplishment of both the city and its most famous artist. Purchased from Eakins for two hundred dollars and given to Jefferson Medical College by alumni in 1878, the painting has been a source of inspiration to generations of students and doctors at Jefferson, and a pilgrimage site for visitors. In its decision to sell The Gross Clinic in 2006, Thomas Jefferson University offered Philadelphia institutions the right to match the price and acquire the painting, prompting an unprecedented outpouring of support to keep the masterpiece in the city. The painting is now jointly owned by and exhibited in alternation at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where the richness of history and context will deepen the meaning of this great work of art—a national treasure in its native city.