Penn Reading Project to Focus on the Thomas Eakins Painting 'The Gross Clinic'

PHILADELPHIA –- Reading a painting? At the University of Pennsylvania incoming freshmen will test their visual literacy in this year’s Penn Reading Project with “The Gross Clinic,” an 1875 Thomas Eakins painting showing a surgery in progress.

The masterpiece is jointly owned by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

“The Gross Clinic” represents the first departure from a text-only book in the 19-year history of the Penn Reading Project.

“The PRP Web site has a host of special features, including a ‘Guide to Seeing’ that the art-history department is putting together,” David Fox, director of the project, said. “There will be high-quality images of ‘The Gross Clinic’ on the site and podcasts to help students explore the painting visually and to underscore some of the things to look for.”

Accompanying readings will include materials that give historical context to the painting as well as news clippings that detail the campaign to keep the painting in Philadelphia in 2006, when it was to have been sold. Copies of the painting will be given to students who have limited Web access.

The students will have the opportunity to view a later Eakins painting, his 1889 “Agnew Clinic,” on their visit to the Philadelphia Art Museum as part of their PRP experience.

The reading project is one of a series of events in Arts & the City Year, a Penn theme-year initiative, which kicks off officially Sept. 22 and celebrates arts and culture across campus and throughout the neighborhood, city and region. Additional information is available at