Courtly Treasures: The Collection of Thomas W. Evans, Surgeon Dentist to Napoleon III at the Arthur Ross Gallery

  • July 14, 2015
  • vol 62 issue 1
  • Features
  • print
Lynn Marsden-Atlass, Dean Denis F. Kinane

(above) Lynn Marsden-Atlass joined Dean Denis F. Kinane and a likeness of Dr. Evans at the School of Dental Medicine’s unveiling of the restored antique carriage, which was returned to Penn after having been on loan to a museum in France since 1993. Dr. Evans used his four-seat carriage to enable Empress Eugénie, the wife of Napoleon III, to flee Paris in 1870 in the Battle of Sedan during the Franco-Prussian War, after the Emperor’s capture and imprisonment. Gift of Thomas W. Evans.

Grandiose scale, sumptuous surfaces and superb craftsmanship will be featured in this exhibition of artworks from the collection of Thomas W. Evans (1823-1897). As the American-born dentist who spent most of his life in France where he served as dentist and confidant to the French court of Napoleon III, Dr. Evans—a West Philadelphian—assembled a premier collection of paintings, sculpture and decorative arts. He willed his estate and his parents’ home (at 40th and Spruce streets) to Penn to create a “world class dental school.” This exhibition offers an exclusive look at highlights from the Evans Collection—with some 130 items on display—for the first time in over 30 years.

While celebrating the splendors of 19th century artistry, the exhibition also tells the fascinating story of Dr. Evans and his life among European heads of state. Paintings by Henri-Louis Dupray and Gustave Neymark illustrate political and military scenes from the Second Empire in France. Portraits and cabinet card photographs document Dr. Evans’ own family and aristocratic contacts. Engraved tankards and other decorative metals commemorate Dr. Evans’ courtly relationships. Exquisite ceramics represent the period taste for spectacular and exotic decoration. This eclectic collection of treasures promises to delight the eye and captivate the imagination.

Courtly Treasures, drawn from the University Art Collection, is co-curated by the Arthur Ross Gallery and the Office of the Curator and celebrates the centennial anniversary of the School of Dental Medicine’s Thomas W. Evans Building, the construction of which was made possible through Dr. Evans’ estate. An illustrated catalogue of scholarly essays accompanies the exhibition, with contributions by Dean Denis Kinane of the School of Dental Medicine; Lynn Marsden-Atlass, director of the Arthur Ross Gallery and University curator; André Dombrowski, associate professor, history of art; Heather Gibson Moqtaderi, art collections manager and associate curator; Amy Ogata, professor of art history, University of Southern California; and Lindsay Grant, PhD candidate, history of art.

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(above) Portraits by George Peter Alexander Healy, c. 1853, oils on canvas, of Thomas W. Evans and Mrs. Agnes Doyle Evans.  Dr. Evans. The dentist was the first to use vulcanized rubber as a base for dentures and nitrous oxide as an anesthetic. He was a friend to royal households of Europe and the School of Dental Medicine’s first benefactor (Almanac October 11, 1983).
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(above) Secretary Desk, maker unknown, c. 1860, boulle work in brass and tortoise shell. Gift of Thomas W. Evans.

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(above) Henri-Louis Dupray, Disturbance in Paris, 1883, oil on canvas. Gift of Thomas W. Evans.