Exhibition Gallery, first floor, Perelman Building
Acquired by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 2007 after a stirring public campaign to keep the painting in Philadelphia, Thomas Eakins's masterpiece, Portrait of Dr. Samuel D. Gross (The Gross Clinic) of 1875, has been cleaned and restored for the first time in almost fifty years. The painting emerges from the conservation studio as the centerpiece of this exhibition, which throws new light on a work acclaimed as the greatest American painting of the nineteenth century. Inviting visitors to see this celebrated painting afresh, the exhibition first evokes the experience of The Gross Clinic in Eakins's own day. Aiming to make an international impression at the Centennial Exhibition, which took place in Philadelphia in 1876, the young and ambitious Eakins (1844–1916) prepared a monumental modern history painting celebrating the nation's most famous surgeon, Dr. Samuel Gross of Jefferson Medical College (now part of Thomas Jefferson University). Rejected by the jury as too gruesome for the art galleries, however, the picture was installed among the medical displays of the U. S. Army model post hospital.
The technical and historical study behind the conservation treatment led by Mark Tucker, the Museum's Vice Chair of Conservation and Senior Conservator of Paintings, is explored in an adjacent gallery and theater. Eakins's preparatory studies for the painting, X-radiographs of the canvas, historical images of The Gross Clinic, and a video documentary help visitors understand how the painting was made, how it looked in 1875, and how and why it has changed over time.
The exhibition is made possible by Joan and John Thalheimer, by the Robert J. Kleberg, Jr. and Helen C. Kleberg Foundation, by The Pew Charitable Trusts, and by Wachovia, a Wells Fargo Company. The conservation of Thomas Eakins's The Gross Clinic, and the related documentary, were generously supported by The Richard C. von Hess Foundation.
Kathleen A. Foster • The Robert L. McNeil, Jr., Senior Curator of American Art, and Director, Center for American Art Mark S. Tucker • The Aronson Senior Conservator of Paintings and Vice Chair of Conservation