The Philadelphia Museum of Art announced today that it has completed the funding of its share in the joint acquisition of Thomas Eakins’s heroic 1875 masterpiece, The Gross Clinic, through deaccessioning Eakins’s Cowboy Singing, which has been jointly acquired by the Denver Art Museum and the Denver-based Anschutz Collection, as well as two oil sketches for Eakins’s Cowboys in the Badlands, which have been acquired by the Denver Art Museum. The Museum acquired The Gross Clinic early last year with the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts from Thomas Jefferson University, amidst a spirited campaign to keep the painting in Philadelphia.
Anne d’Harnoncourt, Director of the Museum, said: “The Museum joins the Academy in expressing heartfelt gratitude to everyone who made it possible for Thomas Eakins’s greatest work, The Gross Clinic, to remain in Philadelphia, the city with which it is so closely identified. The decision to deaccession Cowboy Singing and the two sketches of Cowboys in the Badlands was not made lightly. It was always our hope to keep these works in the public domain and we’re pleased that they will find a broad audience in Denver, where they can be seen in the context of other important collections of Western American art.”
Cowboy Singing (ca. 1892, 24 x 20 inches), depicting a man seated with a banjo and wearing chaps, relates to Eakins’s sojourn in North Dakota (then the Dakota Territory) in 1887. It is similar to another Eakins painting in the Museum’s collection, Home Ranch, which was painted at the same time, treats the same theme, and is exactly the same size as Cowboy Singing. Both paintings portray the same model wearing the costumes Eakins brought home from his trip to the West. In Cowboy Singing, the figure, in a kind of reverie, appears against a loosely brushed backdrop, and is seen full face, while Home Ranch has a more finished treatment, including another figure, a cat, and details of a bunkhouse interior.
The two oil sketches by Eakins (20 x 24 inches and 10 x 14 inches) were made around 1887. They are two of five sketches owned by the Philadelphia Museum of Art for the finished painting, Cowboys in the Badlands, which was acquired by the Anschutz Collection in 2003. The acquisition of these two sketches by the Denver Art Museum means that they can now be shown in proximity to the final related painting.
All three of these works were among those given to the Museum in 1929 by the artist’s widow, Susan MacDowell Eakins, and Mary Adeline Williams, executors of Thomas Eakins’s estate. Their gift forms the bulk of the Museum’s extensive collection of works by Eakins, including nearly 80 paintings, as well as many sculptures, drawings and watercolors, photographs by Eakins and his circle, and a major archive.
In the deed of gift to the Museum dated December 5, 1929, Susan Eakins wrote: “If occasion should arise in which the Museum could in its judgment effect an exchange, favorable to the memory and reputation of Thomas Eakins, of paintings now in the Collection for other paintings, such exchange may be made, provided due care shall be taken by the Museum to preserve always a representative group of the works of Thomas Eakins.”
The decision to deaccession was the result of a long process, which included a careful curatorial assessment of the Museum’s holdings in consultation with Eakins scholars, approval by the Museum’s American Art Committee and Committee on Collections, followed by a vote by the Board of Trustees.
In November 2006, when Thomas Jefferson University announced its sale of The Gross Clinic, it offered local institutions 45 days to match the $68 million sale price. The Museum and the Academy partnered in the drive, agreeing to share the painting equally, and initiated a community-wide appeal that has drawn more than 3,500 donors across all 50 states.
Currently on view at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, The Gross Clinic will return to the Museum this summer as the capstone of its renowned Eakins collection. Described by some as arguably the most important painting by any 19th-century American artist, it will be placed on view in Gallery 119 of the Museum’s American wing, in the exhibition Philadelphia Treasures: Eakins’s Gross Clinic and Saint-Gaudens’s Angel of Purity, opening August 2, 2008.