The Gross Clinic of 1875 is one of the most significant works created by the great Philadelphia painter Thomas Eakins (1844-1916) and a landmark in the history of 19th-century American art. A new exhibition—An Eakins Masterpiece Restored: Seeing ‘The Gross Clinic’ Anew (July 24, 2010 – January 9, 2011), to be presented in the Pennsylvania Gallery of the Perelman Building, will enable visitors to see and understand this painting—its creation, its critical reception, and the physical changes it has experienced over time—in new ways.
In late 2008, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, joint owners of The Gross Clinic, initiated a plan to evaluate the condition of the painting, to research its conservation history, and assess the potential benefits of an effort to clean and restore it. The resulting study of The Gross Clinic and numerous other Eakins paintings made clear the potential of a new conservation treatment that would address the problems caused by an aggressive cleaning of the painting’s surface in the 1920s.
On July 24, 2010, The Gross Clinic will be placed on view as the centerpiece of this exhibition, newly restored in the paintings conservation studio of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Based on emerging evidence that yielded a comprehensive understanding of the painting’s original appearance and the changes that had occurred to it, the sensitive treatment carried out by the conservation staff of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts will enable audiences to see this masterpiece as Eakins intended it to be seen.
“We carefully evaluated the history and condition of this remarkable painting, and the treatment plan that this museum developed in collaboration with our colleagues at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts enabled us to see the painting in a new way and then to recover, through the restoration of toning glazes and of passages where paint losses had occurred, the appearance that Eakins clearly sought to achieve in the finished work,” said Timothy Rub, The George D. Widener Director and CEO. “We applaud the fine work of Mark Tucker, the Vice Chairman of Conservation and The Aronson Senior Conservator of Paintings, and his colleagues at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts for their thoughtful and well-researched approach to this task and their sensitive handling of the conservation of The Gross Clinic.”
The exhibition will explore the history and initial reaction to The Gross Clinic, using source materials from the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, including photographs and didactic panels, as well as the responses of contemporary viewers, which ranged from horror and revulsion to awe-struck praise. Three surviving preparatory studies for the painting and a new full-sized X-radiograph of The Gross Clinic will be presented to provide insight into Eakins’s painting process, supplemented by texts explaining the artist’s commitment to the academic ideal of correct pictorial tone and color. The exhibition will also include a documentary film produced by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, examining the artistic ideas that informed Eakins’s approach to painting, the way in which he used certain materials and techniques to achieve specific pictorial effects, and the reasons that many of his paintings—including The Gross Clinic—were altered by aggressive conservation treatments in the decades after his death in 1916.
This exhibition will include other important works such as The Agnew Clinic of 1889 (owned by the University of Pennsylvania) the artist’s second great clinic painting, as well as his Portrait of Dr. Benjamin H. Rand of 1874 (Crystal Bridges Museum), which was Eakins’s first full-length portrait of a doctor.
The Gross Clinic is owned jointly by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, thanks to the successful campaign launched by the two institutions in 2006 to keep the painting in Philadelphia when it was offered for sale by Thomas Jefferson University. The Gross Clinic will move to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts for a period of three years following the close of this exhibition in January.