Center for Integrative Medicine

Where Tradition Meets Innovation in Health Care

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ABOUT THE AGNEW CLINIC:

 Conventional Western medicine treats primarily the disease, often ignoring the individuality of the patient, and even the cause. Conventional medicine is called allopathic, from allo (other), patho (agent of disease), and often introduces other toxic drugs/chemotherapy to counter the original pathogen (disease).  Integrated medicine treats the whole person as a unique individual, evaluating lifestyle, health issues, nutrition, appropriate medications and other life influences.  The focus of integrated medicine is to create a partnership between patient and doctor, who work together to adjust the lifestyle of the patient to restore and balance healing  to mind, body and spirit.  This is the balance for which  Dr. David C. Agnew strives.

ABOUT THE PAINTING:

American Artist Thomas Eakins (1844-1916) was commissioned to create the oil painting The Agnew Clinic in 1889.  It was commissioned to honor anatomist and surgeon David Hayes Agnew, the great great grandfather of Dr. David C. Agnew.  It was commissioned for $750 (equivalent to over $19,000 today) in 1889 by three undergraduate classes at the University of Pennsylvania, to honor Dr. Agnew on the occasion of the 70 year old's retirement as Professor of Surgery. Dr. Agnew (1818-1891), a Pennsylvania native, was a well respected surgeon and educator who had served in two army hospitals during the Civil War. The Agnew Clinic depicts Dr. Agnew performing a partial mastectomy in a medical amphitheater.  He stands in the left foreground, holding a scalpel.  Also present are Dr. J. William White, applying a bandage to the patient; Dr. Joseph Leidy (nephew of paleontologist Joseph Leidy), taking the patient's pulse; and Dr. Elllwood R. Kirby, administering anesthetic.  In the background, Dr. Agnew's nurse, Mary Clymer, and University of Pennsylvania medical school students observe.  Eakins placed himself in the painting--he is the rightmost of the pair behind the nurse--although the actual painting of him is attributed to his wife, Susan Macdowell Eakins.

Thomas Eakins, America's greatest, most uncompromising realist, dedicated his career to depicting the human figure, in oil and in watercolor, sculpture and photography.  He was enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts from 1862-1866, and attended anatomy lectures at Jefferson Medical College.  He studied in France for three years at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.  Having begun teaching at the Pennsylvania Academy in 1876, he transformed it into the leading art school in America.  

The painting is Eakins' largest work, measuring 84-3/8" x 118-1/8".   After preparatory sketches of Dr. David Agnew, an oil study of Agnew, and a compositional sketch for the entire work, individual studies of all 33 figures were made, but none are known to survive. The painting was completed quickly, in three months, rather than the year it took Eakins to complete The Gross Clinic. Eakins painted a second version in black and white, specifically to be reproduced by photography.  His friend and protege, Samual Murray, modeled a statuette of Eakins at work on the painting.   Eakins carved a Latin inscription into the painting's frame.  Translated, it says: "D. Hayes Agnew, M.D. Most experienced surgeon, clearest writer and teacher, most venerated and beloved man."  

The Agnew Clinic is one of Eakins' most hotly debated works.  His decision to portray a partially nude woman observed by a roomful of men (even though they were doctors, in an undeniably medical setting) was controversial.  It was rejected for exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1891, and the New York's Society of American Artists in 1892.  Its exhibition at Chicago's 1893 World's Columbian Exposition was criticized.  Modern art historian David M. Lubin asserts psychological and sexual overtones, e.g., "...the depiction of masculinity subjugating femininity does seem an essential component of the work."

After Eakins' death in 1916, the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art opened a memorial exhibition of sixty of his paintings.  The Pennsylvania Academy followed a month later with an exhibition of 139 works.  By the early 1930's, Eakins was considered one of America's greatest artists. As of 2009, The Agnew Clinic was on loan from the University of Pennsylvania to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.