Mesmerizing Art at the Phillips Collection
Along the Corridors
Published: Friday, June 1, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, June 5, 2012 16:06
All summer long, the guide will take a look at some of the museums that call the District home. We’ll weed out tourist traps and find the hidden gems where you can spend a few hours along the corridors.
Though the Philips Collection may not be as well known or as wallet friendly as the Smithsonian museums, this hidden gem contains some of the most beautiful art in the city and the world.
Located in Dupont Circle on 21st Street, the Phillips Collection offers a unique art experience in a fascinating historical setting. The museum showcases the private collection of early 20th-century collector Duncan Phillips, who channeled his passion for American and European art into an incredibly successful career. His collection today contains over 3,000 works by some of the most well-known artists in history. Even the museum itself is a work of art, since it occupies an 1897 Georgian Revival-style mansion that once served as the Phillips family’s personal residence. This location gives the entire museum a worn-in, homey feeling, although the newly renovated north wing provides more traditional museum accommodations.
As far as the art on display, the collection has an incredibly wide range of works by artists like Vincent van Gogh, Edgar Degas, Pablo Picasso and Georgia O’Keeffe. The biggest draws are definitely Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s “Luncheon of the Boating Party” and the Collection’s renowned Rothko Room, which is dedicated solely to the work of Russian artist Mark Rothko.
“Luncheon of the Boating Party” is one of Renoir’s largest canvases, displaying the artist’s mastery of light and color as well as the Impressionist ideal of outdoor painting. It is the most popular piece in the gallery and draws visitors from around the world.
While less well known, the true star of the Phillips Collection is the Rothko Room, featuring four canvases by the seminal modern art master. Known for his demanding personality, whenever Rothko sold a painting to a museum or private collector, he would explain that his paintings were meant to be displayed “in a scale of natural living” — in a small space, close to the ground, in low light settings and alongside only other Rothko paintings. While most large museums today cannot accomodate these requirements, the Phillips Collection can, and the experience is almost spiritual. Rothko wanted his paintings to serve as “distillations of human emotion,” and this display truly conveys that intention.
While the Phillips Collection has advantages over its public counterparts artistically and because of its proximity to both the Hilltop and lively Dupont Circle, there is one major drawback for the cash-strapped college summer student. Unlike at its larger counterparts, you may have to pay to visit the Phillips. On the weekends, student rates vary from $8 to $10, depending on the current special exhibition. Between Tuesday and Friday, admission to the permanent collection is by donation. Although in theory you could visit the museum for free, being excessively stingy isn’t cool, so be prepared to fork over at least a few bucks.
All in all, the Phillips Collection presents a fascinating blend of 20th-century modern art from around the world and is definitely a museum worth checking out this summer.