Thomas Eakins - The Gross Clinic

by Alexandra Tuschka


Samuel Gross, the famous surgeon, is giving a lecture for his students. However, he seems somewhat absent and in thought - his eyes are in the dark. In his hand he holds a bloodied knife. To the right of Gross, men gather around a wound on which they are operating.

All of the doctors in the painting are identified, and every one of them has had a personal or business relationship with Gross. Eakin's realism even goes so far as to name students who are in the upper rows observing the goings-on. They are drawn in shadow; only the protocolist on the left of the picture stands out and connects both grounds of the picture. In the foreground we see the surgical instruments used by the doctors. In the table we can also see the signature of the artist who, as a drawing student, has also placed himself in the first row on the left edge of the picture. Only the patient, from whom necrotic tissue is removed, plays a supporting role and remains anonymous - only his thigh can be seen.


The only emotion in the sterile assembly emanates from a woman in front on the left - is she the mother of the unknown? Gross, on the other hand, has something devilish about his portrayal. No emphatic connection to the patient is recognizable, and the students also sit rather distantly by the events.


The Gross Clinic" combines the high art of realism with an important testimony to medical history. In 2008, the Philadelphia Museum oft Art raised a whopping $68 million to keep the painting on its premises. The work was of high symbolic value to the city, as Samuel Gross had pursued his professorship in Philadelphia.


Thomas Eakins - The Gross Clinic

Oil on canvas, 1875, 198.12 x 243.84 cm, Philadelphia Museum of Art in Philadelphia