In 1874, Thomas Eakins took a second course in anatomy at Jefferson Medical College. He attended surgical lectures and clinics presided over by Professor Samuel D. Gross. Eakins painted “The Gross Clinic,” to show the emotion involved in medical procedures.
It appears as if the doctors performing the surgery have emotionally removed themselves from the situation at hand. By removing themselves from the emotional aspects of the surgery, the doctors can complete the task much easier than they would have been able to do if they had become emotionally attached to the patient. Had the doctors been emotionally involved in the surgery, they would have become more prone to making errors while operating on the patient because they would be thinking more of their feelings than they would about the surgery in progress. Although emotions are great and necessary things, sometimes trying to remove them is for the best.
Another thing noticed by the viewer is the veiled woman crying next to the doctor. She is very involved in this operation by letting her emotions freely show themselves. This woman could be the mother or siblings of the patient, and while she knows that the surgery was necessary to save or improve the life of her beloved, it is difficult to watch. By putting emotions out into the open, as the woman has done, makes them easier to deal with. Keeping feelings bottled up inside can cause breakdowns and emotional instability. This adds another layer of complexity to the surgery. Performing the task would require enough of the doctor's skill, but mix emotion into the equation, and the work, mentally as well as physically, is doubled.
In the painting, Gross appears to be feeling a various assortment of emotions. He has paused his surgery and lecture, to deeply think about something. While he must keep his feelings in check, he also needs to by sincere for the sake of the patient’s mother and the students in the surgical amphitheatre. The head of the doctor is placed against a dark background, making it stand out. This creates a dividing layer of emotions. This “emotion layer” divides the onlookers, who have no real intentions other than to observe the lecture, from the actual participants involved in the surgery. The people in the foreground, whether fighting to get rid of them or choosing to let them to flow out, are dealing with some sort of feelings. The lighting of the head, allows the viewer to see the high forehead, deep set eyes, and furrowed brow of Professor Gross. The background also appears flat, making the eye drawn to the foreground. This effect gives Gross more of an emotional presence than that of the onlookers. All of these techniques are used to show emotion.
In 1874, Eakins took a risk painting this oil on canvas picture of an ongoing surgery. People of the time thought it was too vulgar and graphic. By standing by his first decision of including the reality aspect of the surgery, Eakins helped to broaden the minds of some stern critics. His painting, showing the power of emotions, has become and American classic.