A Risky Artist

December 25th, 2006

“Eakins,” Walt Whitman once said, “is not a painter, he is a force…”

And quite the force Mr. Thomas Eakins has been, stirring up waves of passion and patriotism in the Philadelphia community. The New York Times dedicated two pages to the artist. Writer Michael Kimmelman tracked down the legacy of Eakins through the several prestigious and historical Philadelphia locations that carried his artwork. So what started all the fuss?


Wal-Mart heiress Alice L. Walton and the National Gallery of Art in D.C. proposed to purchase the Eakins masterpiece The Gross Clinic for the hefty sum of $68 million from Thomas Jefferson University. Once the word was out, civic juices boiled, students protested, and Philadelphians rallied against this great injustice. Enter the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (The Academy) and the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) to save the day. The organizations worked on a fund-raising campaign to match the selling price before Christmas. In the end, it was a good day for Philadelphians.

Initially, the painting did not attract a lot of traffic. During the Victorian Era, his work was generally deemed unacceptable and not for the faint of heart. So then what exactly did Eakins do that warrants all this attention? Simply put (cue drum roll) – this Philadelphian was a RISK TAKER.

When I first saw the painting, I didn’t know a thing about its historical background (but you can read it here). What I did know was that it wasn’t just another medical painting. Widely considered one of the greatest American painters, Eakins didn’t get there by working inside the frame. He stood up for his conviction of showing the facts of life and science. (At one point, Eakins even lost his job for it.)

I’m not suggesting that everyone should adopt the Eakins Complex, but make a goal of taking intelligent risks/changes in the way you manage your life or business. Create a new way to capture client interactions. Read a new book (Mavericks at Work, wink wink). Or visit the Gross Clinic at the Academy this March. . .

Posted Under: Art & Design, Greater Philadelphia
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