The Gross Clinic
Genre: Oil on canvas
- Shafer, Audrey
- Date of entry: Aug-25-1998
- Last revised: Jul-22-2010
Professor Samuel D. Gross of Jefferson Medical College is demonstrating an operation for osteomyelitis of the femur in the surgical amphitheater in 1875 in this highly dramatic, powerful scene. Light glints off his forehead, and his visage is stern, calm, and surrounded by a halo of gray-white hair. The bloody fingers of his right hand hold a blood-tipped scalpel. He appears to have just made an incision and is turning away to demonstrate his work.
To the surgeon’s left is the patient, lying in right lateral decubitus position, with exposed leg and buttocks. Assistants are retracting the wound, further dissecting within it, and holding the patient’s legs. Blood is on their hands, instruments, and the patient’s leg. The patient’s face is obscured by the chloroform soaked towel that the anesthetist is using to administer general anesthesia. The white of this towel and the operating table’s sheet are the only other bright white values besides the surgeon’s head in this mostly dark painting.
Adding to the drama is the stricken pose of the patient’s female relative--to the surgeon’s right. For charity cases, a family member was required to be present during the surgery. She averts her head and raises her hands, clenched in a claw-like fashion, to block her view.
In the gallery are variously interested and disinterested observers--mostly medical students--in casual poses and dimly seen. The exception is the artist’s self-portrayal--he is studiously drawing in the front row. Dr. Gross’s son (also a surgeon) is standing in the entry tunnel.
Nuland, Sherwin B. Medicine: The Art of Healing. New York: Hugh Lauter Levin Assoc., 1992; Rutkow, Ira M. Surgery: An Illustrated History. New York: Mosby 1993 (frontispiece); Lyons, Albert S. and Petrucelli, R. Joseph II. Medicine: An Illustrated History. New York: Abrams, 1987; Hartt, Frederick. Art: A History of Painting, Sculpture, Architecture. New York: Abrams, 1976.