THE PHILLIPS COLLECTION--a brief background
The Phillips Collection occupies a unique position in the United States and the nation's capital as the oldest museum of modern art in the country, and one of the most beloved museums of this city. In 1921, Duncan Phillips (1886-1966), an heir to the Jones and Laughlin steel fortune, opened two rooms of his family home to the city and the world as a memorial to his brother and father. He conceived of the museum as a "joy-giving, life-enhancing influence, assisting people to see beautifully as true artists see." Wanting visitors to take time to enjoy art, Phillips decided that the informal, comfortable intimacy of a domestic setting was more conducive to a pleasurable viewing experience than the grand spaces of a traditional museum building, and he gave his entire house over to the public display of his extraordinary collection.
Founder Duncan Phillips opened the collection as a museum of modern art and its sources, believing strongly in the continuum of art and artists influencing their successors through the centuries. Thus, he collected such past masters as El Greco because he was the "first impassioned expressionist", Chardin because he was "in a sense that all painters understand, the first modern painter" and Manet. The Phillips Collection is noted for its Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings. Pierre-Auguste Renoir's dazzling icon of Impressionism, Luncheon of the Boating Party, hangs here, as do celebrated works by Van Gogh, Monet, Degas, Gauguin, and Cézanne.
The roomful of opalescent canvases by turn-of-the century French painter Pierre Bonnard, and the intimate interiors of Edouard Vuillard, are particularly well matched to this intimate museum. Cubist pioneer Georges Braque is represented by 13 works, including the magnificent canvas The Round Table. The Paul Klee room with such whimsical canvases as Arab Song and Picture Album brings delight to visitors of all ages.
American artists are equally celebrated in The Phillips Collection--such 19th century artists as Homer, Eakins, Prendergast, Whistler, and Ryder are displayed together, and the museum is especially strong in the works of modernists O'Keeffe, Marin, Dove, and Hartley. Horace Pippin's Domino Players is a perennial favorite, often displayed with paintings by Grandma Moses and other naif painters. Mid-century artists such as Jacob Lawrence, Mark Rothko, and Richard Diebenkorn are also popular with museum visitors. The abstract color paintings are said to have inspired the artists of the Washington Color School.
Supported solely by Duncan Phillips during his lifetime, in the 1980's the museum underwent a period of intense growth and activity led by Laughlin Phillips, son of the museum founder and formerly a publisher and founder of Washingtonian magazine. During this time, the museum's most famous paintings were sent on several national and international tours to increase knowledge of the collection and raise funds for the renovation and enlargement of the museum's buildings--the original family home and an annex first built in 1960 and enlarged almost 30 years later.
In May 1992, the Trustees of the Collection named noted curator and art historian Charles S. Moffett to the directorship of the museum. Mr. Moffett was the first non-family member to hold this position. During his tenure (1992-98), Moffett was directly involved with the presentation of a series of imaginative and high-quality exhibitions, including the remarkable Impressionists on the Seine (1996).
In June of 1998, Jay Gates assumed the directorship of The Phillips Collection. Previously director of the Dallas Museum of Art (1993-98) and the Seattle Museum of Art (1987-1993), Mr. Gates brings a record of accomplishment in all roles now demanded of a museum director—curator, administrator, and fund-raiser. As director of the Phillips, Gates has led the museum into the next century with strong exhibitions including Renoir to Rothko: The Eye of Duncan Phillips (1999-2000), Honoré Daumier (2000), and Over the Line: The Art and Life of Jacob Lawrence (2001). Upcoming exhibitions include Margaret Bourke-White: Photography of Design, 1927-1936 (2003) and Marsden Hartley: American Modernist (2003).
The Phillips Collection offers an active schedule of temporary exhibitions, lectures, concerts, gallery talks, classes, parent/child workshops, teacher training programs, film series, and receptions. The museum has, in little more than 11 years, built an individual membership group of almost 11,000 art lovers in this city and the nation. Its corporate members include many of America's leading businesses. Noted worldwide for its comfortable, homelike setting, its Sunday Afternoon Chamber Concerts have been a favorite with Washingtonians since 1941 and have provided important early concerts for such stellar musical talents as Jessye Norman, Emanuel Ax, and the late Glenn Gould.