National cultural, civic and community leaders are uniting to broaden the public’s understanding of the civic, historic, and artistic importance of Thomas Eakins’ 1875 masterpiece, The Gross Clinic, and to ensure that the painting stays in Philadelphia. The leaders have joined “The Committee to Keep Eakins’ Masterpiece in Philadelphia,” a group recently established by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and led by WHYY President & CEO William J. Marrazzo.
Among the Committee members are actor Kevin Bacon; Philadelphia artist Moe Brooker; and Dr. Rae Alexander-Minter, retired vice president of The Metropolitan College of New York, and grandniece of renowned Philadelphia artist Henry Ossawa Tanner, who studied with Eakins. All members share the view that The Gross Clinic should remain in Philadelphia, the city in which it was painted.
Bacon, a Philadelphia native, said of Eakins’ The Gross Clinic: “This masterpiece and this artist are so intertwined and connected to this city that it should and must remain where it was created, and shared with as many people as possible.”
Other individuals named to the Committee include Dr. Robert Campbell, president, College of Physicians; Jim Cotter, arts editor, WRTI-FM; Meryl Levitz, executive director, Greater Philadelphia Tourism and Marketing Corporation; Stephanie Naidoff, commerce director, City of Philadelphia; Danielle Rice, Ph.D., executive director, Delaware Art Museum; and Dr. Stanton N. Smullens, chief medical officer, Jefferson Health System. Additional members are still being named.
Committee members will use their individual and collective networks to increase understanding about the importance of The Gross Clinic to the region, and what the painting means to Philadelphia’s medical, artistic and intellectual histories. They will also develop strategies to fill any necessary gaps in information about Eakins and The Gross Clinic, particularly in underserved communities.
“Members of this Committee share a common belief: that the home of Eakins’ The Gross Clinic is Philadelphia,” said Marrazzo. “Working swiftly and decisively, we are identifying how we can assist the community’s understanding of the broad and deep significance of the painting, and what it means to people in Philadelphia’ many diverse neighborhoods, as well as to physicians and art supporters and enthusiasts. Eakins, despite his talent and vision and study in Europe, was a man of Philadelphia.
“He lived his entire life in the same house on Mount Vernon Street; went to Central High School as an engineering student; taught at the Pennsylvania Academy; painted rowers on the Schuylkill River; and looked into the soul of some of the leading intellects and citizens of the day, including poet Walt Whitman,” said Marrazzo.
Because of Eakins’ community roots, Marrazzo said the Committee’s long term goal is to engage the public with the idea of how heritage and cultural legacies build and impact communities. Its members will work to identify and bring attention to other artworks and objects of significance to the public which are potentially at risk of being sold or removed from this region.
“Most of all, Eakins believed in the brilliance of his students, even at the expense of social convention,” said Dr. Alexander-Minter, author of the book Young and Black in America. “Eakins taught my granduncle Henry Ossawa Tanner, an African-American painter, at a time when it was unheard of for a white teacher to champion a black artist, and he painted a portrait of my granduncle years later. That was something Eakins rarely did. It showed his respect for the sheer talent of a student who became an accomplished artist.”
The Committee was formed with the goal of fostering a broad dialogue about the importance of The Gross Clinic to the region, following the announcement by the painting’s owner, Thomas Jefferson University, that the painting is under an agreement of sale for $68 million to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, founded by Alice L. Walton and scheduled to open in 2009, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., unless Philadelphia institutions can match the price by December 26, 2006.
WHYY, the leading public broadcasting station in the greater Philadelphia region, is what a diverse community has in common. Through television, radio, the Web and other communications services, WHYY makes our region a better place, connecting each of us to the world’s richest ideas and all of us to each other. For details of WHYY’s comprehensive Eakins’ coverage, including original documentaries on television, radio programming, Arts & Culture blog The Sixth Square, and a community dialogue on November 28, visit www.whyy.org.
About the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
Founded in 1805, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is America's oldest continually operating school of fine arts and museum. A recipient of the 2005 National Medal of Arts presented by the President of the United States of America, the Academy is a recognized leader in fine arts education. The institution's world-class collection of American art continues to grow and includes major works by the Academy's faculty and alumni, both current and historic.
About the Philadelphia Museum of Art
The Philadelphia Museum of Art is among the largest art museums in the United States, showcasing more than 2,000 years of exceptional human creativity in masterpieces of painting, sculpture, works on paper, decorative arts and architectural settings from Europe, Asia and the Americas. The striking neoclassical building stands on a nine-acre site above the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and houses more than 200 galleries. The Museum offers a wide variety of enriching activities, including programs for children and families, lectures, concerts and films.