I Miss Georges Braque’s The Shower

The Phillips Collection galleries have been dark and empty and our staff and visitors have been missing our beloved collection. In this series we will highlight artworks that the Phillips staff have really been missing lately. Head Librarian Karen Schneider on why she misses Georges Braque’s The Shower (1952).

Georges Braque, The Shower, 1952, Oil on canvas, 13 3/4 x 21 1/2 in., The Phillips Collection, Acquired 1953

I miss the visual nourishment that Georges Braque’s The Shower provides, as well as the respite from these troubling times. I crave the contact with this and other beloved paintings in The Phillips Collection that I turn to for sustenance even under ordinary circumstances. Here, as Braque did in this painting, we are drawing on memory to recall our relationship with the world.

Braque’s The Shower is a small but powerful landscape that is intimate in scale and poetic in approach. Painted from memory, it depicts a bicycle leaning against two tree trunks in the countryside of Normandy, France. An isolated shower is suggested by diagonal dashes of rain, depicted in long white brushstrokes falling on the area to the right of the two trees. The owner of the hastily depicted bicycle, possibly the artist himself, is nowhere to be seen. His presence is communicated by his absence, much as we today are experiencing our absence from all but our most immediate environment—the home. Braque’s emphasis on the tactile qualities of the landscape arouses the viewer’s sense of touch and our experience of the natural environment. Braque found the subtle earth tones and slate blue skies of the north more conducive to his meditative nature than the dazzling sunlight of southern France. We long for the healing properties that come from being immersed in nature—experiencing the fresh air, sun, sky, trees, and flowers even more vividly after being confined at home every day.

The ability of museums to make their exhibitions available online is commendable but no substitute for the immersive experience that a direct encounter with a work of art provides. Our absorption in works of art leads to greater connectivity and, as Duncan Phillips said, fosters a “quickening of perception” that stays with us as we return to our everyday lives.

I Miss Marsden Hartley’s Mountain Lake—Autumn

The Phillips Collection galleries have been dark and empty and our staff and visitors have been missing our beloved collection. In this series we will highlight artworks that the Phillips staff have really been missing lately. Media Relations Manager Hayley Barton on why she misses Marsden Hartley’s Mountain Lake—Autumn (c. 1910).

Marsden Hartley, Mountain Lake—Autumn, c. 1910, Oil on academy board 12 x 12 in., The Phillips Collection, Gift of Rockwell Kent, 1926

The first time I saw a painting by Marsden Hartley, I was an intern at the Bates College Museum of Art, in Lewiston, Maine, home for the summer to escape the heat of my college town, in Charleston, South Carolina. How fitting to see my first Hartley in the town of both his birthplace and my own. A few years later I found myself at The Phillips Collection, having recently moved to Washington, DC (again, to escape the heat of Charleston only to find myself in a swamp . . . womp). I turned the corner into a parlor in the historic Phillips House and found myself transported home momentarily, looking at a painting by Marsden Hartley.

When you look at Mountain Lake—Autumn, you can almost feel the crisp breeze and smell the sun-warmed leaves and damp ground. It is a spectacular painting of a mountain and a lake, covered with the brightest trees in the middle of a magical autumn. So maybe this is reading more like a love letter to Maine, but if you’ve ever been to New England in the fall, after having just lived through a summer in a beyond-humid area, you know how invigorating it is and what a bath for your eyes this painting can be.

The blue that Hartley uses for the water and the yellow in the trees, to me, are spot on. On a clear day on a lake in inland Maine, you can see each of these colorsin the reflection of the sky on the water, in the vegetation that blankets the entire state, and in the leaves that turn when they get that first taste of cool air.

Marsden Hartley grew up in Maine, moved away, and once he declared himself an artist, he came back and painted. Hartley gave the painting to artist Rockwell Kent, and Kent gave it to museum founder Duncan Phillips. Upon receiving it, Phillips wrote to Kent and said: “The Hartley is so fine a picture that I hesitate to accept it but the reason you give is a good one namely that in our Gallery many people will enjoy it to the artist’s benefit and to our mutual satisfaction.”

I miss finding Mountain Lake—Autumn in the Phillips’s galleries, and stopping to drink it in, think of home, a perfect fall day, and that damp brisk air that smells like leaves. Most of all, though, I miss wandering through the galleries, seeing my coworkers, and smiling as they, too, find something to stop and enjoy for a brief moment in the workday.

Susan Rothenberg: In Her Own Words

The Phillips Collection mourns the loss of trailblazing painter Susan Rothenberg (1945-2020). Rothenberg recently reflected on two of her works that are part of The Phillips Collection.

Susan Rothenberg, Dominos-Cold, 2001, Oil on canvas, 86 1/2 x 72 1/2 in., The Phillips Collection, Gift of Alice Swistel, 2019

“The painting Dominos-Cold is an expression of how I fell in love with green—a color I did not know well before I moved to New Mexico in 1990. I used cold and warm versions of green to represent the felt-covered game table, the site of our favorite board game. I like the fact that the hands aren’t anchored. They just float around the space of the painting. You really have to know that they are at a table. The hands are just these living things, moving around like the dogs or the horses.”

Susan Rothenberg, Three Masks, 2006, Oil on canvas, 59 3/16 x 66 1/8 in., The Phillips Collection, The Dreier Fund for Acquisitions, 2007

“When I painted Three Masks in 2006, I was toying with the idea of paper bag masks like kids wear for Halloween.You know the old saying that everything an artist does is a self-portrait? I think it’s true. All of my work has a portrait element to it. But I still have a hard time allowing myself to make a complete human figure. So I guess it’s kind of a broken portraiture.”

We look forward to honoring Rothenberg next year in our forthcoming centennial exhibition and publication, Seeing Differently: The Phillips Collection for a New Century (2021).