Beyond his role as surgeon dentist to France’s Napoleon III, Thomas W. Evans was also the Emperor’s friend and confidant, a diplomat, a philanthropist, and the man whose estate would establish the School known today as Penn Dental Medicine.
Evans’s innovative, pain-free dental techniques endeared him to a European aristocratic and royal clientele, who often rendered payment in titles, medals, and precious gifts. Throughout his career Evans amassed an impressive collection of paintings, sculptures, photographs, jewels, medals, and decorative arts. Today, more than 130 of these artifacts have been recovered from obscurity and painstakingly restored over the past five years. Courtly Treasures: The Collection of Thomas W. Evans, Surgeon Dentist to Napoleon III, the exhibition currently on view at Penn’s Arthur Ross Gallery, showcases these art works and offers a rare glimpse at the connection between 19th century Philadelphia and Napoleonic France.
When the Evans Museum and Dental Institute opened in 1912 the Evans art collection and carriage were on permanent display. In 1967 the museum was closed and the collection disbanded as the need for more clinical space increased at Penn Dental. Art was sold at auction in 1983, and works were displayed around campus, or placed into storage, where they were all but forgotten. For the past five years and through the efforts of the Office of the University Curator and the Arthur Ross Gallery, and with resources from the School of Dental Medicine and its Dean along with the Office of the Curator, over 130 artworks were rediscovered, and conserved to their original splendor.
A particularly historic piece of the collection, the dentist’s carriage, was used by Evans to rescue Napoleon III’s wife, Empress Eugénie, in a daring escape from Paris in 1870. The carriage, recently restored and returned from France, is now on permanent display in the Dental School’s Schattner building lobby. A painting by Henri-Louis Dupray depicting this historic moment—and featuring that very carriage—is another of the exhibition’s must-sees.
Courtly Treasures celebrates the Centennial of Penn Dental’s Evans Building located on the family’s former homestead at 40th and Spruce Street. This facility that has served Penn Dental for a century and the building is poised to undergo a $34 million restoration. Most of the superb artifacts in the Evans collection will soon the reinstalled in the renovated Evans Building, where students, faculty and visitors will be able to enjoy the School’s unique heritage.