Published: February 6, 2007
The stakes were high and the price of victory was great but the Philadelphia Museum Of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts have prevailed in keeping Thomas Eakins’ “The Gross Clinic” in the city in which it was created.
The Philadelphia museums had a January 31 fundraising deadline before the painting’s then-owner, the Thomas Jefferson University, was to sell it to the National Gallery of Art and the planned Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark. With more than 3,000 donors, the museums had raised nearly half of the money through a fundraising from campaign as of last week.
To defray the cost of the $68 million purchase, the academy’s board of directors recently voted to sell, for an undisclosed sum, another Eakins’ work in its collection since 1896, “The Cello Player,” which had been on loan to The Metropolitan Museum of Art for an exhibition, “Americans In Paris.” Local press and online art blogs have been abuzz with this news since last week, most critical of the trade.
“Much as we regret parting with ‘The Cello Player,’ securing ‘The Gross Clinic’ for Philadelphia was in the best interest of the City and the Academy,” said the academy in a prepared statement. A spokesman said the decision was not “easy” for the academy, but the overriding goal was to keep “The Gross Clinic” in Philadelphia as it is inextricably linked to the city.
“The Cello Player” is a portrait of cellist Rudolf Hennig (1845–1904), who settled in Philadelphia after studying at the Leipzig Conservatory, according to the Met’s online catalog for its exhibition. The academy bought the oil on canvas work shortly after its completion for $500, which Eakins split with Hennig. The painting and another work earned Eakins an honorable mention at the 1900 Exposition Universelle.
The academy said fundraising is ongoing, but did not specify how money is still to be raised nor how much debt the museums are incurring. Wachovia Bank agreed to provide financing to cover the cost difference over what the museums raised, the Philadelphia Museum of Art announced last year.
There is no word yet on if future deaccessions are planned or if the Philadelphia Museum will have to do the same to cover its share of the purchase price.
Though “The Cello Player” is leaving the academy, the private collector who purchased it has agreed to lend it periodically to the academy, according to the academy’s statement. “The Philadelphia Museum of Art, which contains the most comprehensive collection of works by Eakins, has also agreed to lend a major work by the artist to the Academy at times when ‘The Gross Clinic’ is on view at the museum.”
Eakins’ iconic “The Gross Clinic” is a dramatic 8-by-6-foot painting of Dr Samuel D. Gross, distinguished surgeon and first chair of surgery at Thomas Jefferson University’s Medical College, performing bone surgery in front of his students. Eakins, a Philadelphia native, who was for many years an instructor and a director of the academy, painted the portrait in 1875 after studying anatomy under Dr Gross.
The painting is on view at the Philadelphia Museum until March 4, after which it will go on view at the academy for several years. The spokesman said that the timeline for sharing the work between the two institutions is still being hammered out.
The academy owns two other Eakins works, “Portrait of Walt Whitman” and “Portrait of Harrison S. Morris” and an archive including sketches and photographs.
For information on the academy, www.pafa.org or 215-972-7600. For the Philadelphia Museum, 215-763-8100 or www.philamuseum.org.
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