A few moments later, the doors opened, and visitors began to pour in – a woman with a cane, a woman in a wheelchair, a man with a cane, a young man with an earring, a mother with toddler – all focused intently on the huge painting. This was the moment, the culmination of an intense campaign to raise a record amount of money to keep this iconic painting in the city. There were so many people crowding in and pointing and looking that the gallery and the crowded hall outside were enveloped with a blockbuster aura. Hundreds streamed by The Gross Clinic in the first hour or so. But this was no vast exhibition of golden Egyptian artifacts or colorful Monet gardenscapes. This was one big, dark canvas – with some supporting paintings arrayed elsewhere in the gallery – depicting a bloodied, thoughtful doctor demonstrating a difficult surgical procedure to a group of attentive and, in some cases, sleepy students.
It is considered Eakins’ greatest work, and many consider it the greatest American painting of the 19th century.