Two other Eakins paintings sold in Philadelphia to private collectors

1. Thomas Eakins (1844-1916)
Portrait of Professor William S. Forbes, 1905
Oil on canvas
Private collection
(previously Philadelphia,
Thomas Jefferson University)

22/06/2007 — Deaccessioning — Philadelphia, Thomas Jefferson University and Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts — Thomas Jefferson University which recently sold two Thomas Eakins paintings has just sold the third, and last one, it owned, Portrait of Professor William S. Forbes (ill. 1). This work had been commissioned directly to the artist in 1905 by former students as a tribute to this doctor who held the chair of anatomy at Jefferson Medical College [1].

Whereas the first two were acquired by museums, this one will enrich a private collection. And yet it had been on display to the public ever since its donation to the university. The college has explained that its role is not to maintain an art collection. This argument is in contradiction with the history of the establishment. If this were the case, only museums would be meant to have and exhibit works of art. All other institutions (universities, hospitals, churches…) could unscrupulously hand them over to the highest bidder.

2. Thomas Eakins (1844-1916)
The Cello Player, 1896
Oil on canvas - 163.2 x 122.2 cm
Private collection
(previously Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Academy
of the Fine Arts)

The ultimate paradox is that in order to acquire The Gross Clinic from Thomas Jefferson University, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts [2] had to sell off another Eakins painting, The Cello Player (ill. 2) which it had acquired in 1897. This sale, conducted in utmost privacy, was considered controversial. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer : “Sacrificing one Eakins to save another is like, in medical terms, amputating a leg to save a patient’s life. Furthermore, the Academy’s method-turning over the painting, quickly and in a secretive manner, to an unknown buyer for an undisclosed price-is even more clandestine than Jefferson University’s method for selling The Gross Clinic [3].

At stake in this series of sell-offs is Philadelphia’s local heritage, with three Eakins works, until now on display to the public, having left the city, two of which will join private collections.

Version française

Didier Rykner, vendredi 22 juin 2007


[1] This college is part of Thomas Jefferson University.

[2] In partnership with the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

[3] Edward J. Sozanski, “Secret shame : Selling one Eakins to save another”, The Philadelphia Inquirer, February 11, 2007.

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