The Fairmount Park Art Association was stunned by Thomas Jefferson University’s recent announcement that it will sell Thomas Eakins’ masterpiece The Gross Clinic to the National Gallery and the new Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas.
The deal allows 45 days for local cultural institutions to match the $68 million sale price in order to keep the painting in Philadelphia. A fundraising campaign coordinated by the Philadelphia Museum of Art is underway, and online contributions can be made to the Fund for Eakins’ Masterpiece.
The Art Association’s Executive Director, Penny Balkin Bach, told the Philadelphia Inquirer on November 11, 2006 that 45 days was not long enough for the city’s cultural institutions to react to the sale, maintaining “this kind of time frame does not respect the city’s relationship to the painting. Absolutely not.”
As a guest on WHYY’s Radio Times on November 22, 2006, Ms. Bach discussed other works of art that are owned by non-museum institutions in Philadelphia that also could be vulnerable to sale outside of the region. She encouraged the city and its institutions to be proactive in identifying and protecting important artworks before they are threatened. One way to ensure that these cultural icons remain in Philadelphia is to have them designated as historic objects under Philadelphia’s historic preservation code.
The Art Association represented the public interest and was active in keeping Maxfield Parrish’s The Dream Garden in Philadelphia. That artwork, located in the lobby of the Curtis Building at 6th and Chestnut Streets, was designated an historic object in 1998. The Dream Garden was eventually purchased with funds from the Pew Charitable Trusts for $3.5 million and became part of the collection of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art.
Philadelphia Mayor John Street nominated The Gross Clinic for historic object designation on November 17, 2006, and fundraising continues. It is not clear how this nomination will affect the 45-day timeline, which is set to expire on December 26, 2006.