The Phillips Collection is an art museum founded
by Duncan Phillips and Marjorie Acker Phillips in 1921 as the Phillips
Memorial Gallery located in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington, D.C.
Phillips was the grandson of James H. Laughlin, a banker and co-founder of the
Jones and Laughlin Steel Company.
Among the artists represented in the collection are Pierre-Auguste Renoir,
Gustave Courbet, El Greco, Vincent van Gogh, Henri Matisse, Claude Monet, Pablo
Picasso, Georges Braque, Pierre Bonnard, Paul Klee, Arthur Dove, Winslow Homer,
James McNeill Whistler, Jacob Lawrence, Augustus Vincent Tack, Georgia O'Keeffe,
and Mark Rothko.
The Phillips Collection, opened in 1921, is America’s first museum of modern
art. Featuring a permanent collection of nearly 3,000 works by American and
European impressionist and modern artists, the Phillips is recognized for both its
art and its intimate atmosphere. It is housed in founder Duncan Phillips’ 1897
Georgian Revival home and two similarly scaled additions in Washington, D.C.’s
Dupont Circle neighborhood.
The museum is noted for its broad representation of both impressionist and
modern paintings, with works by European masters such as Gustave Courbet, Pierre
Bonnard, Georges Braque, Jacques Villon, Paul Cézanne, Honoré Daumier, Edgar Degas,
Vincent van Gogh, Paul Klee, Henri Matisse, Claude Monet, and Pablo Picasso. In
1923, Phillips purchased Pierre-Auguste Renoir's impressionist painting,
Luncheon of the Boating Party (1880–81), the museum’s best-known work.
From the 1920s to the 1960s, Phillips re-arranged his galleries in installations
that were non-chronological and non-traditional, reflecting the relationships he
saw between various artistic expressions. He presented visual connections—between
past and present, between classical form and romantic expression—as dialogues on
the walls of the museum. Giving equal focus to American and European artists,
Phillips juxtaposed works by Winslow Homer, Thomas Eakins, Maurice Prendergast,
James Abbott McNeill Whistler, and Albert Pinkham Ryder with canvases by Pierre
Bonnard, Peter Ilsted and Édouard Vuillard. He exhibited watercolors by John Marin
with paintings by Cézanne, and works by van Gogh with El Greco’s The Repentant St.
Peter (circa 1600–05). Phillips’ vision brought together "congenial spirits among
the artists," and his ideas still guide the museum today.
The Phillips Collection is also known for its groups of works by artists who
Phillips particularly favored. For example, he was overwhelmed by Bonnard’s
expressive use of color, acquiring 17 paintings by the artist. Cubist pioneer
Braque is represented by 13 paintings, including the monumental still-life The
Round Table (1929). The collection has an equal number of works by Klee, such
as Arab Song (1932) and Picture Album (1937), as well as seven
pieces by abstract expressionist artist Mark Rothko. The Rothko Room, the first
public space dedicated solely to the artist’s work, was designed by Phillips in
keeping with Rothko’s expressed preference for exhibiting his large, luminous
paintings in a small, intimate space, saturating the room with color and
Throughout his lifetime, Phillips acquired paintings by many artists who were
not fully recognized at the time, among them John Marin, Georgia O'Keeffe, Arthur
Dove, Nicolas de Staël, Milton Avery, Betty Lane and Augustus Vincent Tack. By
purchasing works by such promising but unknown artists, Phillips provided them with
the means to continue painting. He formed close bonds with and subsidized several
artists who are prominently featured in the collection—Dove and Marin in
particular—and consistently purchased works by artists and students for what he
called his "encouragement collection." The museum also served as a visual haven for
artists such as Richard Diebenkorn, Gene Davis, and Kenneth Noland. In a 1982
tribute to the museum, Noland acknowledged, "I’ve spent many hours of many days in
this home of art. You can be with art in the Phillips as in no other place I