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“The Gross Clinic” by Thomas Eakins

"The Gross Clinic" by Thomas Eakins

“The Gross Clinic” by Thomas Eakins

“The Gross Clinic” by Thomas Eakins depicts Dr. Samuel D. Gross, a seventy-year-old professor dressed in a black frock coat, lecturing a group of Jefferson Medical College students. This painting is famous or its realism and its historical depiction in the American history of medicine.

The painting is also known with the title of “The Clinic of Dr. Gross” and honors the emergence of surgery as a healing profession rather than being associated primarily with amputation. This bloody and blunt depiction of surgery was shocking at the time it was first exhibited.

Painted in 1875, it shows what a surgical theater looked like in the nineteenth century and is based on a surgery witnessed by the artist. Dr. Gross was treating a young man for osteomyelitis of the femur and is pictured here performing surgery instead of amputation.

The surgeons crowd around the anesthetized patient in their frock coats. This composition documents a period before understanding and adopting a hygienic surgical environment and wearing sterilized surgical coats. The scene is also noteworthy for the absence of any professional nurses.

In the painting, the lone woman seen in on the right with her arm raised to her face is assumed to be the patient’s mother, cringing in distress. Her dramatic figure functions as a strong contrast to the calm, professional demeanor of the men who surround the patient.

This historical painting also shows a time when surgical gloves were not used. Operations were carried out with unsterilized hands, causing the wound to be infected afterward. Seen over Dr. Gross’s right shoulder is the clinic clerk, taking notes on the operation.

Included among the group of students witnessing the operation is a self-portrait of Eakins, he in the shadows sketching or writing next to the tunnel railing. Eakins’s signature is painted on the front of the surgical table.

An ink wash copy of the painting was made by the Thomas Eakins, which is now housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. 

This painting was submitted for the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia but was rejected by the Committee of Selection. Controversy about the painting has centered on its realism of surgery’s violent acts and the woman’s melodramatic presence.

Today the painting is seen as essential to American art history and is valued at over $70 million.

"The Gross Clinic" by Thomas Eakins

The Gross Clinic (drawing), Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Gross Clinic

  • Title:                      The Gross Clinic
  • Also:                      The Clinic of Dr. Gross
  • Artist:                    Thomas Eakins
  • Year:                      1875
  • Medium:                oil on canvas
  • Dimensions           240 cm × 200 cm (8 ft × 6.5 ft)
  • Category:               History Painting
  • Museum:               Philadelphia Museum of Art

The Gross Clinic (drawing)

  • Title:                      The Gross Clinic
  • Also:                      The Clinic of Dr. Gross
  • Artist:                    Thomas Eakins
  • Year:                      1875
  • Medium:                Drawing
  • Dimensions           Height: 243.8 cm (95.9 in;) Width: 198.1 cm (77.9 in) 
  • Museum:               Metropolitan Museum of Art

Thomas Eakins

  • Name:            Thomas Eakins
  • Born:              1844, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
  • Died:              1916 (aged 71), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
  • Nationality:    American
  • Movement:    Realism
  • Famous Works:

“The Gross Clinic” by Thomas Eakins

A Tour of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

“The Gross Clinic” by Thomas Eakins

“The Gross Clinic” by Thomas Eakins

“The Gross Clinic” by Thomas Eakins

“The Gross Clinic” by Thomas Eakins

“The Gross Clinic” by Thomas Eakins

~~~

“Surgeons must be very careful when they take the knife! Underneath their fine incisions stirs the Culprit – Life!”
– Emily Dickinson

~~~


Photo Credit: 1) Philadelphia Museum of Art / Public domain; Thomas Eakins / Public domain.

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