Thursday, January 11, 2007

Just One More Time

I really was going to be done with the saga of The Gross Clinic, now that the Eakins masterpiece has found it's rightful home at the Philadelphia Art Museum. See, A New Home. I believe that I've had 10 posts on the topic, which may be a record (but who's counting).

Speaking of the sale, in a piece entitled The auctioneer's song: Christie's, The Gross Clinic and The Sting, Richard Carreno writes:

The transfer will also culminate in what may be the biggest scam in American art history. The perp? None other than the putatively reputable Thomas Jefferson University.

From the beginning, the deal seemed dodgy, almost as if Jefferson scripted it as a sequel to Ocean’s 11 or The Sting. The bait in this skullduggery, of course, was the 1875 Eakins masterwork, owned by the university since 1876 (when it was bought for $200 by alumni to honor its subject, the noted Jefferson surgeon Dr. Samuel Gross).

As with any Hitchcock thriller, the plot must be thickened beyond a single mere villain. Joining Jefferson as grifters are the acquisitive National Gallery of Art in Washington Christie's auction house in New York, and— too perfect to be true!— a bumbling billionairess from Arkansas, the Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton. The caper's fall guys? Two of the nation’s premier art institutions, the Art Museum and the Pennsylvania Academy. The patsy in chief? The City of Philadelphia.
See, Broad Street Review, via Blinq. As Dan Rubin explains further:
By Carreno's lights, Walton was the easy mark - "at Wal-Mart she functions as a retailer of velveteern Elvis portraits" - and Christie's consultants earned their fees "by devising an ingenious alternative plan." Instead of an auction or straight sale, as we all know by now, Jeff got Walton and the National Gallery to offer $68 million, but the deal was off if a local buyer could match the amount. Enter, the Art Museum, the Pennsylvania Academy, the city and assorted art lovers.
Bottom line: We all got taken by Jeff.

UPDATE: I certainly can't do yet another Eakins post, especially after the (above) caption I used. But I did want to mention the article in the NY Times on Eakins, In the Company of Eakins. The piece is interesting not only because it covers the TJU/Eakins controversy, but also because it gives a great overview of other Eakins paintngs located around Center City.

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