ExhibitionsEuropean Masterworks: The Phillips Collection
Past Exhibition

European Masterworks: The Phillips Collection

April 6 – July 14, 2019

European Masterworks: The Phillips Collection presents the pioneering collecting approach of Duncan Phillips (1886–1966). As the founding director of The Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, Phillips opened the first museum of modern art in the United States in 1921. In a gallery added to his family’s Georgian Revival home, he began his mission to define modern art and its origins, starting with nineteenth-century influences and moving through the present. Grouping works by their aesthetic temperament, he brought together artists from different places and times to “trace their common descent from old masters who anticipated modern ideas.”

The iconic works by Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, Expressionist, and Cubist artists in European Masterworks show Phillips’s efforts to bring European modernism to a larger audience.  Phillips saw his museum as an “experiment station” that tested new ideas. Enthusiastic about the art of his time, he promoted independent, varied voices, including those outside the mainstream, whom he encouraged by collecting their work in depth. He revered artists who achieved mastery of color, the power of great emotion, and the balance of representation and abstraction. A patron of free spirits, Phillips shared a passionate and personal dialogue with many artists and was motivated by the “joy-giving and life-enhancing” power of beauty.

Any reproduction of these digitized images shall not be made without the written consent of The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.

The Small Bather, 1826

Jean‑Auguste‑Dominique Ingres
French, 1780–1867
The Small Bather, 1826
Oil on canvas
Acquired 1948Jean‑Auguste‑Dominique Ingres painted many variations on the subject of the seated bather seen from behind. The Small Bather is unique in Ingres’s oeuvre because it includes a landscape setting, perhaps a reflection of the artist’s admiration for Old Master painters. His ability to forsake anatomical accuracy for pure line is evident in the figure of this woman, whose back seems stretched beyond natural proportions. Duncan Phillips often would hang The Small Bather with Delacroix’s Paganini (also displayed in the same gallery) to contrast the precise line of Ingres’s neoclassicism with the dramatic brushwork of Delacroix’s Romanticism.


The Spanish Ballet, 1862

Édouard Manet
French, 1832–1883
The Spanish Ballet, 1862
Oil on canvas
Acquired 1928Phillips recognized Édouard Manet as one of the pivotal sources of modern art. By 1926, Phillips had begun searching for a figure painting by Manet. Two years later, he learned of a group of important paintings, including this one, and acted immediately to acquire it through the art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel for $110,000. This painting reflects Manet’s fascination with Spanish art and culture. It shows the principal dancers from the Royal Theater of Madrid, onstage as if in a performance, but does not describe a specific scene. Instead, it is a carefully constructed studio composition.


The Uprising (L’Émeute), 1848 or later

Honoré Daumier
French, 1808–1879
The Uprising (L’Émeute), 1848 or later
Oil on canvas
Acquired 1925“[Daumier’s] … material, the drama of the streets, was romantic and so was his rebellion against the authorities in his choice of that material and his protest against the evils of his time.”
—Duncan PhillipsDuncan Phillips was among the earliest American collectors to champion the art of Honoré Daumier. He referred to him in 1926 as one of the greatest artists of the 1800s. When this long-forgotten painting appeared on the market in 1925, Phillips seized the opportunity to acquire it. On more than one occasion he referred to it as his favorite and as the greatest picture in the collection.


The Road to Vétheuil, 1879

Claude Monet
French, 1840–1926
The Road to Vétheuil, 1879
Oil on canvas
Acquired 1920Claude Monet had established his first steady home in Argenteuil, outside of Paris, in 1872. Distraught by a lack of sales and mounting debts, he moved with his family in 1878 to Vétheuil, another village farther down the Seine from the capital. There he spent three years refining his technique and extending his practice of painting canvases in series that show the same views in different seasons and at different times of day. Duncan Phillips listed The Road to Vétheuil among his fifteen best purchases of 1918–1919.


Entrance to the Public Gardens at Arles, 1888

Vincent van Gogh
Dutch, 1853–1890
Entrance to the Public Gardens at Arles, 1888
Oil on canvas
Acquired 1930After two years in Paris, Vincent van Gogh left for Arles in February 1888. He had dreams of creating a community of artists under the leadership of Paul Gauguin and, for this purpose, rented a small yellow house. Van Gogh painted this view of the entrance to the park opposite the yellow house between August and October 1888, when he was eagerly awaiting Gauguin’s arrival and the start of their artistic collaboration. In September 1930, Phillips received the painting on approval from the Wildenstein Gallery in New York and acted immediately to purchase it. To Phillips it was “an outcry of the soul.”

Vangogh Garden.jpg

Ginger Pot with Pomegranate and Pears, 1893

Paul Cézanne
French, 1839–1906
Ginger Pot with Pomegranate and Pears, 1893
Oil on canvas
Gift of Gifford Phillips in memory of his father, James Laughlin Phillips, 1939In the mid-1920s, Duncan Phillips was searching for a still-life painting by Paul Cézanne. After seeing Ginger Pot with Pomegranate and Pears at The Museum of Modern Art’s inaugural exhibition in 1929, and again at Wildenstein Gallery in New York in February 1930, Phillips borrowed it for an exhibition. For Phillips, the solidity of the shapes and forms in this painting recalled Chardin’s dignified still-life arrangements. Phillips’s nephew, Gifford, presented it as a gift to the museum in 1939. The painting was once owned by Monet, to whom the artist had given it.


Dancers at the Barre, ca. 1900

Edgar Degas
French, 1834–1917
Dancers at the Barre, ca. 1900
Oil on canvas
Acquired 1944“Degas tells the truth about toe-dancing, the illusion and the disillusion of it.”
—Duncan PhillipsDuring the last years of his career, Degas’s use of line became more expressive and his colors more brilliant. In this painting, he captured a behind-the-scenes look at dancers at a studio on the rue Le Peletier, where he frequently sketched. This work is one of his last representations of a dancer with her leg propped on the practice barre. Phillips affirmed that “in its monumentality it is unique among all his decorations celebrating the arabesques and occupational anatomy of ballet dancers.”


Studio, Quai Saint‑Michel, 1916

Henri Matisse
French, 1869–1954
Studio, Quai Saint‑Michel, 1916
Oil on canvas
Acquired 1940In an austere image of his own working environment, Henri Matisse contemplated the themes of the artist’s studio: the picture within a picture, the artist and his model, and the open window. Simplified verticals and horizontals suggest the architecture of the apartment in the heart of Paris where Matisse worked during the late winter and early spring months of World War I. One of four paintings Matisse made of this studio, the artist implied his presence here with the picture propped on a chair, as on an easel. Phillips purchased this work from Pierre Matisse Gallery and lauded it as a landmark of modern art.


Autumn II, 1912

Wassily Kandinsky
French, born Russia, 1866–1935
Autumn II, 1912
Oil on canvas
Acquired 1945Wassily Kandinsky was a pioneer of abstract art. He conceived Autumn II while writing his treatise on abstraction, Concerning the Spiritual in Art. Using vibrant, abstract forms, Kandinsky presented an autumn day by a lake in the Bavarian Alps near the village of Murnau. He schematized the landscape to lay bare nature’s essential elements. This work expresses Kandinsky’s ideas on the psychological and symbolic power of expressive color. He connected the yellow to “the last forces of summer in the brilliant foliage of autumn … the blue to infinity … and the green to calm.”

Kandinsky Autumn Ii Crop 1480x1075.png

Woman with Green Hat, 1939

Pablo Picasso
Spanish, 1881–1973
Woman with Green Hat, 1939
Oil on canvas
Gift of the Carey Walker Foundation, 1994In 1935, Picasso met Dora Maar, a young Surrealist photographer. In Picasso’s portraits of her from 1938 and early 1939, Maar’s face undergoes wrenching distortions, and she is often shown weeping, perhaps a reflection of their tumultuous relationship. Woman with Green Hat is a break from that tension. The head’s sculptural form harkens back to Picasso’s interest in the art of non-Western cultures, while the wistful expression of the eyes and the grayish-blue and pink of Maar’s complexion suggest the artist’s Rose Period (1904–1906).


Still Life with Grapes and Clarinet, 1927

Georges Braque
French, 1882–1963
Still Life with Grapes and Clarinet, 1927
Oil on canvasThe Phillips Collection is unique among museums of modern art in placing greater emphasis on the work of Braque than that of Picasso. Phillips was convinced that Braque’s art would better stand the test of time because it satisfied three criteria that were important to the museum founder: classicism, personal vision, and continuity with French tradition. Among the many allusions to the sense of touch in this painting are the marble and wood grain surfaces that Braque simulated in paint. Mesmerized by these effects, Phillips negotiated with New York dealer Paul Reinhardt. He finally purchased this work for $5,400 in December 1929.


Family Group, 1946

Henry Moore
British, 1898–1986
Family Group, 1946
Acquired 1947Henry Moore’s postwar semi-abstract sculptures are informed by primitive art, Egyptian and Mexican sculpture, and the human figure. Family Group was inspired by Moore’s wartime drawings of sheltering families in London’s Underground. It also reflects his impressions on the birth of his daughter that year. Moore’s use of bronze, a relatively new medium to him at the time, brought a more fluid and deeply felt emotion to this symbol of family closeness. The year this sculpture was created, Duncan Phillips gave Moore his first museum exhibition in America.

Family Group.jpg

To collect works of art is good, to collect only what one particularly likes is better, and to collect only such works as mingle agreeably together is to make the best kind of collection.

Duncan Phillips

About Duncan Phillips

Duncan Phillips photographed in the 1940s

Duncan Phillips, circa 1940s.

Duncan Phillips (1886‒1966) was the younger son of Major Duncan Phillips, a Pittsburgh businessman and Civil War veteran, and Eliza Laughlin Phillips, whose father was a banker and co-founder of the Jones and Laughlin steelworks. He moved with his family to Washington, D.C., in 1895. After graduating from Yale in 1908, Phillips wrote extensively about art and published his first book, “The Enchantment of Art,” in 1914.

Along with his brother, Jim, Phillips began to collect art in 1916 with the support of his parents. His father’s death in 1917 and Jim’s death from influenza in 1918 were stunning blows to Phillips, and he and his mother responded by founding the museum, originally called the Phillips Memorial Art Gallery. In October 1921, just before the museum opened, Phillips married artist Marjorie Acker, and the two worked together closely to build the museum’s collection.
Over the ensuing years, Phillips continued to write about art, build strong relationships with artists as patron and collector, present numerous exhibitions and frequently rearrange works of art in the galleries. He served as the museum’s director until his death in 1966.

European Masterworks: The Phillips Collection is organized by The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC
This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.
This exhibition is made possible by

Exhibition Series Sponsors

Premier Exhibition Series Supporter

The Antinori Foundation
Sarah and Jim Kennedy
Louise Sams and Jerome Grilhot

Benefactor Exhibition Series Supporter

Anne Cox Chambers Foundation

Ambassador Exhibition Supporters

Tom and Susan Wardell
Rod Westmoreland

Contributing Exhibition Series Supporters

The Ron and Lisa Brill Family Charitable Trust
Lucinda W. Bunnen
Corporate Environments
Marcia and John Donnell
W. Daniel Ebersole and Sarah Eby-Ebersole
Peggy Foreman
Robin and Hilton Howell
Mr. and Mrs. Baxter Jones
Joel Knox and Joan Marmo
Margot and Danny McCaul
The Ron and Lisa Brill Family Charitable Trust

Generous support is also provided by

Alfred and Adele Davis Exhibition Endowment Fund, Anne Cox Chambers Exhibition Fund, Barbara Stewart Exhibition Fund, Marjorie and Carter Crittenden, Dorothy Smith Hopkins Exhibition Endowment Fund, Eleanor McDonald Storza Exhibition Endowment Fund, The Fay and Barrett Howell Exhibition Fund, Forward Arts Foundation Exhibition Endowment Fund, Helen S. Lanier Endowment Fund, Isobel Anne Fraser–Nancy Fraser Parker Exhibition Endowment Fund, John H. and Wilhelmina D. Harland Exhibition Endowment Fund, Katherine Murphy Riley Special Exhibition Endowment Fund, Margaretta Taylor Exhibition Fund, Massey Charitable Trust, RJR Nabisco Exhibition Endowment Fund, and Dr. Diane L. Wisebram