At least twice in the 1970s and 1980s, deep-pocketed buyers came knocking on the doors of Thomas Jefferson University seeking to purchase Thomas Eakins’ The Gross Clinic.
On both occasions, administrators consulted the alumni organization – which gave the world-renowned painting to the medical school in 1878 – about what to do.
And in both cases, the alumni said no to millions of dollars, according to several members of the university community. Absolutely not. No sale.
The painting, a monumental portrayal of renowned Jefferson surgeon Samuel D. Gross demonstrating a bloody leg operation, is considered inextricably bound to the university and to Philadelphia, where it was created.
Old school ties were not enough in 2006, however. University trustees announced Friday that they had agreed to sell the painting for $68 million. The news, said David Paskin, senior associate dean at the university, hit Jefferson “like a nuclear blast.”
Yesterday, students, faculty members and alumni were still reeling from the shock, which caught everyone off guard, angering not a few by its seeming stealth.
Local institutions have until Dec. 26 – 45 days from last Friday – to match the offer, a joint bid by an unbuilt Arkansas museum backed by Wal-Mart heirs and the National Gallery of Art in Washington. Failure to match means the 8-by-61/2-foot canvas will be removed from its place in Alumni Hall on Locust Street and shipped first to Washington, then to Bentonville, Ark., in 2009.
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