On Saturday, Thomas Jefferson University announced the impending sale of Thomas Eakins’ masterpiece, The Gross Clinic, to the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC and some fucking Walmart museum — in Arkansas of all places — for $68 million.
Officials at Jefferson said that money from the sale - which was privately brokered by Christie's auction house and pursued quietly over the last three months - would help finance an ambitious expansion plan mapped out for the next decade. Jefferson envisions a radically altered campus on the fringes of Washington Square, replete with new buildings…Why? Because they haven’t already fucked up the neighborhood enough? There are entire blocks in Washington Square West that are routinely devoid of activity on account of Jefferson’s nightmarish planning abilities and urban vision. (Kudos to them for the recent completion of their latest big project, the massive Chestnut Street parking garage. Excellent use of real estate. Really. A bang-up job all around. Those pretty banners hanging on the side totally make all those variances it got for hundreds of extra spaces et al. totally worth it — they look fantastic.)
The deal gives Philadelphia cultural and governmental institutions 45 days to match the price; failure to do so will see the painting taken down from the walls of Jefferson's Eakins Gallery on Locust Street and shipped from its only home.Yea, this whole thing definitely sounds pretty fucking shady.
Local cultural officials, however, said 45 days was not nearly enough time to begin putting together a consortium to match the enormous sale price.
"It's not enough time, since nobody had any forewarning," said Penny Balkin Bach, executive director of the Fairmount Park Art Association. "This kind of time frame does not respect the city's relationship to the painting. Absolutely not."
Bach characterized the sale as "a tragic loss to the city's cultural history."
Should the sale reach finality, it would be the second high-profile acquisition of a work deeply rooted in a local cultural environment by the cash-rich Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark.Wow. We can't imagine why Walmart gets such a bad rap.
Last year, Wal-Mart heiress Alice B. Walton (net worth of $18 billion, according to Forbes magazine), using the Walton Family Foundation as a vehicle, paid a reported record of $35 million for Asher B. Durand's famous Kindred Spirits (painted in 1848), considered one of New York City's most beloved cultural icons. That painting was on view at the New York Public Library for a century. Kindred Spirits will now hang in the Arkansas museum when it opens in 2009.
Back to The Gross Clinic.
The painting in question depicts Dr. Samuel D. Gross, a celebrated surgeon and teacher at Jefferson, demonstrating removal of a tumor from a patient's thigh. Dozens of Jefferson students look down intently on the scene. Eakins, who studied anatomy at Jefferson, painted himself into the tableau.So, JEFF, looks like you’re going to be the bad guy on this one, huh?
The artist, who was born and raised in Philadelphia, believed The Gross Clinic portrayed the city's technical and cultural preeminence. But when he submitted it for inclusion in the art exhibition of the 1876 Centennial Exhibition, the art jury rejected it, arguing that the bloody imagery would offend viewers.
Jefferson alumni, however, found the painting and its subject tremendously powerful. They purchased the canvas and bequeathed it to their alma mater.
The story of The Gross Clinic, then, is almost a metaphor for Philadelphia cultural history. The painting, like the painter, who was famously dismissed from the Pennsylvania Academy faculty for employing nude models in classes with female students, was rejected by a squeamish establishment. Yet The Gross Clinic's very existence and Eakins' enduring legacy are evidence that the city's often derided cultural environment is a breeding ground for great achievements - almost despite itself.
Kathleen Foster, curator of American art at the Art Museum, said: "To let this painting go, the city would be letting Eakins down all over again... . Are we going to do this again? Are we going to turn our backs on him once more?"
Kathleen A. Foster, curator of American art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, called The Gross Clinic "Eakins' greatest painting" and one that is inseparable from Philadelphia, the city where he was born, raised and died in 1916. His ashes are interred in Woodlands Cemetery in West Philadelphia.
"It's not a generic painting that can be hung anywhere," Foster added. "It is all about his life, the life of the city, and the life of one of the city's greatest heroes, Dr. Gross. It is about the connections between the science, education and art of the place where it was made."
Thomas Jefferson University does its best impression of a rat — and is incredibly convincing [Inquirer]
Only 45 days left to see Philadelphia masterpiece on view in Philadelphia [JEFF]