Art and Controversy in Philadelphia
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Philadelphia artist, Thomas Eakins, was an eccentric, who rejected the Victorian values of his day.
An avid realist, Eakins was obsessed with the natural, unclothed, human form. As a teacher, he created quite the controversy with his insistence on exposing female art students to the natural male figure. He was dismissed from more than one teaching position after being accused of questionable practices.
One of Eakins’ most famous paintings is The Gross Clinic. Eakins wanted to paint something that showcased Philadelphia for its Centennial Celebration.
The painting depicts Dr. Samuel D. Gross, lecturing during a surgery at Jefferson Medical School. To Eakins’ disappointment, the painting received mixed reviews. Many thought that the realistic portrayal of a surgery was grotesque, exaggerated, and not for the faint of heart.
The painting sat on display at Thomas Jefferson University’s Medical College until 2006, when the college board secretly voted to sell the painting for $68 million.
The art community of Philadelphia was aggrieved when they learned of the painting’s sale. How could the University that influenced the creation of the painting, sell it and send it far away from Eakins’ beloved home city of Philadelphia? The troops rallied. Loans were granted, money was raised. There were some wheelings and dealings involving other Philadelphia owned works of art. Finally, the Philadelphia Museum of Art successfully secured ownership of The Gross Clinic, allowing the painting to remain in Philadelphia, where it belongs.
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