Thomas Jefferson University

The Eakins Gallery

Thomas Eakins was a late nineteenth-century Philadelphia artist who maintained enduring connections with the medical profession, and especially with Jefferson Medical College where he studied anatomy twice and painted many faculty portraits. Because of his technical proficiency he became chief demonstrator of artistic anatomy at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the first of several positions there. Often reviled during his lifetime for his insistence on studying and painting directly from the human body, today Eakins has been called "the greatest realist painter America has so far produced" by art critic Robert Hughes in a recent Time magazine article. By naming the gallery after the artist, Thomas Jefferson University has demonstrated its high esteem for Thomas Eakins's contributions to both art and medicine.

The Eakins Gallery was inaugurated in 1982 to celebrate the university's portraits of three eminent Jefferson Medical College professors painted by Thomas Eakins — Drs. Samuel Gross (The Gross Clinic), Benjamin H. Rand and William S. Forbes. The Gross Clinic was sold to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in January 2007. The Rand and Forbes portraits were sold in April and June 2007, respectively. Reproductions of all three portraits now hang in the gallery.

Dr. Samuel Gross

Samuel Gross was one of America’s most distinguished and influential surgeons, physicians, anatomists, authors and teachers. As Jefferson Medical College chair of surgery from 1856 to 1882, Dr. Gross inspired thousands of Jefferson medical students and assistants with his articulate lectures, calm judgment, mechanical dexterity, and contributions to surgical technique. Gross was author and editor of hundreds of articles and many books, including his acclaimed two-volume System of Surgery of 1859. Eakins studied anatomy with Gross in 1874, which inspired him to paint his uncommissioned masterpiece, The Gross Clinic, in 1875.

Dr. Benjamin H. Rand

Benjamin H. Rand was Eakins's first sitter outside his circle of family and close friends, and his first physician subject. They had been acquainted at Central High School where Rand was Eakins's chemistry teacher. Later Rand became the chair of chemistry at the Franklin Institute, the Philadelphia Medical College, and then from 1864 to 1877 at Jefferson Medical College. An 1848 alumnus of Jefferson, Rand was the dean from 1869 until 1877.

Dr. William S. Forbes

Jefferson Medical College chose Eakins for a commission to paint the portrait of Professor William Smith Forbes, an anatomist, surgeon, teacher, and medical activist. Forbes had organized a private anatomy school before the Civil War, and was appointed demonstrator of anatomy at Jefferson in 1879 and then chair of anatomy in 1886. The following year he was put in charge of conducting the general surgical clinic. Forbes was recognized for his pioneering efforts in securing the 1867 Anatomy Act, legislation which promoted medical education by making unclaimed human bodies available for scientific purposes and preventing the practice of body snatching.

Eakins’ life-sized, full-length portraits depict Jefferson faculty members hard at work in settings and with attributes that identify their professional specialties and allude to their intellectual prowess. Spanning the artist's career from the mid-1870s to a late work of 1905, the paintings trace an evolution from complex compositions with virtuoso brush work and forceful contrasts of tone and color to a simpler, more monochromatic and meditative work.