The Gross Clinic

The Gross Clinic

Infobox Painting|

title=The Gross Clinic
artist=Thomas Eakins
type=oil on canvas
width_inch=6' 6"
museum= Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts

"The Gross Clinic" is an 1875 painting by Thomas Eakins. It is oil on canvas and measures 8' by 6'6". Dr. Samuel D. Gross, a seventy-year-old professor dressed in a black frock coat, lectures a group of Jefferson Medical College students. Included among the group is a self-portrait of Eakins, who is seated to the right of the tunnel railing, sketching or writing. Seen over Dr. Gross' right shoulder is the clinic clerk, Dr. Franklin West, taking notes on the operation. Eakins's signature is painted into the painting, on the front of the surgical table.

Admired for its uncompromising realism, "The Gross Clinic" has an important place documenting the history of medicine—both because it honors the emergence of surgery as a healing profession (previously, surgery was associated primarily with amputation), and because it shows us what the surgical theater looked like in the nineteenth century. The painting is based on a surgery witnessed by Eakins, in which Gross treated a young man for osteomyelitis of the femur. Gross is pictured here performing a conservative operation as opposed to an amputation (which is how the patient would normally have been treated in previous decades). Here, surgeons crowd around the anesthetized patient in their frock coats. This is just prior to the adoption of a hygienic surgical environment (see asepsis). "The Gross Clinic" is thus often contrasted with Eakins's later painting "The Agnew Clinic", which depicts a cleaner, brighter, surgical theater. In comparing the two, we see the advancement in our understanding of the prevention of infection.

Interestingly, the sex of the patient is not established by anything concrete in the painting itself. This fact makes "The Gross Clinic" somewhat unique, as it presents the spectator with a body that is naked and exposed, and yet is not entirely legible as male or female. Another intriguing element of this painting is the lone woman in the painting, seen in the middle ground of the painting, cringing in distress. She can be read as a female relative of the patient, acting as a chaperone. Her dramatic figure functions as a strong contrast to the calm, professional demeanor of the men who surround the patient. This bloody and very blunt depiction of surgery was shocking at the time it was first exhibited, and remains so for many viewers of the painting today.

Critical reception

The painting was submitted for the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, but was rejected. When it was eventually displayed, a critic for the "New York Tribune" wrote that it was "one of the most powerful, horrible, yet fascinating pictures that has been painted anywhere in this century...but the more one praises it, the more one must condemn its admission to a gallery where men and women of weak nerves must be compelled to look at it, for not to look at it is impossible." Controversy about the painting has centered on its violence, and on the melodramatic presence of the woman. Contemporary scholars have suggested that the painting may be read in terms of castration anxiety and fantasies of mastery over the body (e.g. Michael Fried), and that it documents Eakins's ambivalence about representing sex difference (e.g. Jennifer Doyle). The painting has also been understood to be drawing an analogy between painting and surgery and as identifying the work of the artist with the emergence of surgery as a respected profession.

In 2002 an art critic for The New York Times called it "hands down, the finest 19th-century American painting."Kimmelman, Michael (June 21, 2002). [ Art Review: A Fire Stoking Realism.] "New York Times"] In 2006, in response to the impending sale of this painting, The New York Times published a "close reading" which sketches some of the different critical perspectives on this work of art.Shattuck, Kathryn (November 17, 2006). [] "New York Times"]


After its purchase for $200 at the time of the Centennial Exhibition, the painting was housed in the College Building of Jefferson Medical College, Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia until it was moved in the mid-1980s to Jefferson Alumni Hall. On November 11, 2006, the Thomas Jefferson University Board voted to sell the painting for $68 million to the National Gallery of Art in Washington and the new Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, now under construction in Bentonville, Arkansas. The sale would represent a record price for an artwork made in the United States prior to World War II.Vogel, Carol (November 11, 2006). Eakins Masterwork Is to Be Sold to Museums. "The New York Times"]

The proposed sale was seen as a secretive actSalisbury, Stephan (November 14, 2006), A divisive deal, "The Philadelphia Inquirer"] that many from Philadelphia believed betrayed the city's cultural legacy. [ Selling off a city treasure] ] In late November 2006, efforts began to keep the painting in Philadelphia, including a fund with a December 26 deadline to raise money to purchase it and a plan to invoke a clause regarding "historic objects" in the city's historic preservation code. In a matter of weeks the fund raised $30 million, and on December 21, 2006, Wachovia Bank agreed to loan the difference until the rest of the money has been raised, keeping the painting in town at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. A reproduction of the original painting sits in the place of the original at Jefferson University.

Further reading

*Jennifer Doyle, "Sex, Scandal, and Thomas Eakins's "The Gross Clinic" in "Representations" (Fall 1999), included in "Sex Objects: Art and the Dialectics of Desire" (University of Minnesota Press, 2006)
*Michael Fried, "Realism, Writing, and Disfiguration: On Thomas Eakins and Stephen Crane" (University of Chicago Press, 1998)
*"Philadelphia Works to Keep "Gross" Treasure", broadcast Thursday, 12/14/06, on National Public Radio's "Morning Edition" []
*"Wal-Mart Heir's Bid for Art Riles Philadelphians", broadcast Thursday, 12/14/06, on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" []


Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • The London Clinic — is a large independent hospital situated on Harley Street in London.It was established in 1932 by a group of Harley Street doctors. [ [ the london clinic.aspx About The London Clinic] ] The London… …   Wikipedia

  • Gross (surname) — Gross is a surname, and may refer to:* Alfred J. Gross, American inventor * Arye Gross, American actor * Benedict Gross, American mathematician * Bill Gross, American businessman * Bill Gross (fl. 1990s), American financial manager author * Chaim …   Wikipedia

  • Gross, Samuel David — born July 8, 1805, Easton, Pa., U.S. died May 6, 1884, Philadelphia U.S. surgeon, teacher of medicine, and author. He was apprenticed to a local country doctor before receiving formal medical training. His most celebrated work, Elements of… …   Universalium

  • The Mansion Family — Infobox Simpsons episode episode name = The Mansion Family episode no = 238 prod code = BABF08 airdate = January 23, 2000 show runner = Mike Scully writer = John Swartzwelder director = Michael Polcino blackboard = Class clown is not a paid… …   Wikipedia

  • Gross, Samuel David — (8 jul. 1805, Easton, Pa., EE.UU.–6 may. 1884, Filadelfia). Cirujano, autor y profesor de medicina estadounidense. Antes de recibir educación médica formal fue aprendiz de un médico rural. Su trabajo más celebrado, Elements of Pathological… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • The Young and the Restless minor characters — The following are characters from the American soap opera The Young and the Restless who are notable for their actions or relationships, but who do not warrant their own articles. Contents 1 Current Characters 1.1 Genevieve …   Wikipedia

  • The History Man — (1975) is a campus novel by the British author Malcolm Bradbury set in 1972 in the fictional seaside town of Watermouth in the South of England. Watermouth bears some resemblance to Brighton. For example, there is a frequent and fast train… …   Wikipedia

  • The Green Goblin's Last Stand — is a 1992 fan film by (and starring) Dan Poole, based on the story in Marvel Comics The Amazing Spider Man #121 and 122, The Night Gwen Stacy Died .Infobox Film name = The Green Goblin s Last Stand caption = The Green Goblin s Last Stand poster… …   Wikipedia

  • The Fly (1986 film) — Infobox Film | name = The Fly caption = Be afraid. Be very afraid. director = David Cronenberg producer = Stuart Cornfield writer = Short story: George Langelaan Screenplay: Charles Edward Pogue David Cronenberg starring = Jeff Goldblum Geena… …   Wikipedia

  • The Hunger — Infobox Film name = The Hunger caption = Theatrical release poster director = Tony Scott producer = Richard Shepherd writer = Whitley Streiber (novel) Ivan Davis starring = Catherine Deneuve David Bowie Susan Sarandon Cliff De Young music = Denny …   Wikipedia