The Phillips Col­lec­tion

Where Washington - - EDITOR’S ITINERARY -

You might think that Amer­ica’s first mu­seum of mod­ern art graces New York or per­haps Chicago. But an el­e­gant venue near D.C.’s Dupont Cir­cle claims that dis­tinc­tion. Beloved for both its art­work and its at­mos­phere, The Phillips Col­lec­tion (page 18) was founded in 1921 by Dun­can Phillips. A pub­lished art critic, he col­lab­o­rated with his wife, painter Mar­jorie Acker, to ac­quire works that were con­sid­ered quite dar­ing at the time and dis­play them in a pub­lic gallery within their 1897 Ge­or­gian Re­vival man­sion (above, mid­dle). By 1930, the col­lec­tion had grown so much in size and pop­u­lar­ity that the cou­ple moved out and trans­formed the en­tire res­i­dence into a mu­seum.

Now it has more than 4,000 works of mod­ern and con­tem­po­rary Euro­pean and Amer­i­can art—think van Gogh, Cezanne, Bon­nard, Pi­casso, Homer, Hop­per and O’Ke­effe—on ro­tat­ing dis­play through­out the man­sion and two later ad­di­tions. En­ter into the Goh An­nex, and pick up a map in the lobby. Then head up the curved stair­case to the se­cond floor’s Rothko Room (above, right), which opened in 1960 as the first pub­lic space de­voted to the artist’s work. Phillips col­lab­o­rated with Rothko on its de­sign, an in­ti­mate gallery with one large paint­ing on each wall and a wooden bench in the mid­dle. The sat­u­rated col­ors—ochre, red, green, tan­ger­ine—seem to fill the space and stir the emo­tions.

In an­other room nearby, find the mu­seum’s most fa­mous work, and one that’s been the back­drop for a few mar­riage pro­pos­als: Renoir’s lu­mi­nous “Lun­cheon of the Boat­ing Party” (above, with the Phillips circa 1954). The cell phone au­dio tour (look for the sym­bol next to many of the art­works) re­veals fas­ci­nat­ing de­tails like the fact that Renoir in­cluded his fu­ture wife, Aline, and the artist Gus­tave Caille­botte in the scene.

Next, en­ter the man­sion by head­ing down a set of stairs, past stained glass win­dows, and into the grand oak-pan­eled Mu­sic Room. A piano sits at the ready for Sun­day con­certs (Oc­to­ber–May) and the pop­u­lar Phillips Af­ter 5, a monthly gath­er­ing with mu­sic, drinks, gallery talks and themed ac­tiv­i­ties. Con­tinue through the man­sion’s foyer and into rooms with bay win­dows and tiled fire­places that make an el­e­gant set­ting for paint­ings like De­gas’ “Dancers at the Barre,” van Gogh’s “The Road Men­ders” and Homer’s “Girl with Pitch­fork.”

Be­cause cu­ra­tors reg­u­larly mount special ex­hi­bi­tions and ro­tate art from the per­ma­nent col­lec­tion, no two vis­its here are the same. The staff also con­tin­ues Phillips’ pen­chant for dis­play­ing works of dif­fer­ent pe­ri­ods and styles to­gether to spark “vis­ual con­ver­sa­tions” and his affin­ity for the ex­per­i­men­tal. In 2013, they de­buted the Laib Wax Room, a small cham­ber with walls of fra­grant beeswax. For a med­i­ta­tive ex­pe­ri­ence, try the room’s “con­tem­pla­tion” au­dio tour. Then peek into the first floor’s sculp­ture-adorned court­yard, and make a fi­nal stop at the gift shop for art­ful sou­venirs like prints and mag­nets of your fa­vorite works.

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