Sunday, February 21, 2016

Philadelphia Museum of Art

In December, I went to Philadelphia to my last medical school interview at a nice SOM that I will not attend. It was pouring rain when I arrived, when I interviewed, and when I left, and thus I spent most of Interview Eve in the Philadelphia Museum of Art or on public transit, which, by the way, is extremely well-organized and charmingly old-fashioned.

Though I did eventually see the Liberty Bell and walk by Independence Hall, it was so dark and rainy that I accomplished no real sightseeing. If anything, the views from the train and the window of my Uber to the airport were more successful at stirring up the whirlwind feelings of being in a new city. Also, walking around the campus during the interview in the pouring rain in a suit was downright miserable.

Also, I learned that the Schuylkill River is approximately pronounced "Scoogle" or "Scookle."

All this is to say that due to inclement weather, all I really have to show for my trip to Philly are some photos I took in the museum, which was one of the most splendid and awe-inspiring collections I've ever seen. In spite of my disappointment of not being able to see the city, I was more than satisfied with what I saw in the PMA.

Left: Right Shoulder, Arm, and Hand; Front of Male Torso;Right Side of Head; Right Foot; Right Thigh, Leg, and Foot; Left Knee; Front of Neck and Part of Shoulder

Right: detail of Right Side of Head

All by Thomas Eakins

The Gross Clinic -- 1875, Thomas Eakins

The Agnew Clinic -- 1889, Thomas Eakins

Sunflowers -- 1888, Vincent van Gogh

The Abduction of Europa - 1727, Noël-Nicolas Coypel

The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons - 1835, J.M.W. Turner

I have always loved Turner's paintings, which have such a distinctive dynamic, yet ethereal, style to them. I didn't know much about the collection at the PMA so seeing this in the gallery was a pleasant surprise. In addition to the photos here, there was a special exhibit on the Prometheus myth, showcasing masterpieces by Rubens, Michelangelo, and Titian that absolutely stunned me. Unfortunately, no photos allowed, but the museum site has plenty of information.

The two Eakins paintings shown above were housed in the same gallery across from one another with a bench in between. How can I describe the feeling of being a lowly medical school interviewee in a new city, staring at two significant paintings in medical history? There are many, many analyses of The Gross Clinic and The Agnew Clinic separately and together, and I could not try to look for meaning that others have missed.

I tried to edit the photos to recreate how I remember the paintings to look like. In the dark red gallery, the dark and cool-toned Dr. Gross presides like a wise, stately angel over his somber operating theater. Dr. Agnew's lecture is light and warm, and look how the standard of professional medical care has transformed.

So, I sat in that gallery for at least fifteen minutes, looking back and forth between Drs. Gross and Agnew. From childhood, I have always wanted to be a surgeon, and since then, I have worked ever closer to that dream. At the time, I had not been accepted into medical school, so seeing these paintings was more desperately aspirational than resolutely motivational, but you can imagine how I felt.

Anyhow, I hope I can put together a post about other art on the interview trail, but the recent death of my phone may make that difficult. I leave you with some readings about the Eakins paintings: [0] [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]


  1. I've never actually seen the Eakins paintings before. I quite like Turner's paintings, a friend and I drove down to Canberra to see them when they were at our National Gallery, and I got to see them again last week at the Tate Britain. Sounds like it was a really good museum!

    1. Eakins' style is very striking and almost melodramatic, and the lighting they had in the PMA played that up. I think the PMA has particularly heavy focus on pre-20th century American art, which was a bit different from the other museums I'd been to within the year.