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The Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) is sending a major painting by one of that city’s most celebrated artists, Thomas Eakins, to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City following the Kansas City Chiefs’ victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in the National Football League’s championship match, the Super Bowl, on 12 February. Eakins’s maritime scene Sailing (around 1875) will be delivered to the Nelson-Atkins in time for the NFL Draft (27-29 April), according to a museum spokesperson.
“Each team played its best, and we extend our congratulations to Kansas City,” PMA chief executive and director Sasha Suda said in a statement. “Our Eakins will arrive with wind in its sail, and it will be a pleasure to share this Philadelphia treasure with our Kansas City friends.”
Per the terms of the bet made ahead of the big game by the foremost art museums in each competing city, the institution in the losing city will send a curatorial delegation to the victorious city along with the loaned artwork. “We look forward to welcoming the PMA contingent to the Nelson-Atkins and will make good on our promise to treat them to fantastic barbecue while they are here,” Julián Zugazagoitia, the Nelson-Atkins’s chief executive and director said in a statement. (Kansas City claims to be the barbecue capital of the world.)
Though the wagered works were not revealed ahead of the game, as has been done in previous iterations of this curatorial gambling tradition—which dates back to 2010—it turns out both artworks on the line were pieces by artists affiliated with Philadelphia.
“Had the Eagles won, the Nelson-Atkins would have loaned the Philadelphia Museum of Art Raphaelle Peale’s Venus Rising from the Sea—A Deception,” Zugazagoitia said. “Since Peale was from Philadelphia, we thought it would be fun to affect a family reunion between one of our icons of American painting with the extraordinary Peale family holdings of the PMA.” The Peales—including still life expert Raphaelle, his brother Rembrandt the portraitist and patriarch Charles Willson Peale, all of whom lived and died in Philadelphia—were 19th-century America’s most celebrated family of artists. The PMA holds one of the richest collections of their works.
Hundreds call for reckoning with American artist Thomas Eakins’s troubling legacy
While Eakins (1844-1916) remains one of Philadelphia’s most famous and celebrated artists, his legacy and actions have come under scrutiny in recent years. That reassessment of Eakins was sparked in part by the existence of disturbing photographs he made in his studio around 1882 of a nude Black girl. That, combined with contemporaneous accounts of inappropriate behaviour toward models and students at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (which prompted his resignation) and accusations regarding his treatment of his own family members, have been raised as reasons to re-evaluate his celebration around Philadelphia.
In late 2021, a campaign led by artist and educator Mary Enoch Elizabeth Baxter resulted in hundreds of artists and arts professionals signing an open letter that called on the city and its art institutions to “formally cease and desist their love affair with Thomas Eakins”.