The Boating Party is on the move

A visit to The Phillips nearly always includes a viewing of Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party, usually located on the second floor. Starting on Tuesday, that party is moving on up.

Main Gallery with Renoir, 1951. Phillips Collection Archives.

As part of our 90th Anniversary celebration, the Luncheon of the Boating Party is being installed in its original location, our Main Gallery, with other early museum acquisitions. Though that famous group portrait certainly has stories to tell, the gallery itself has an important history, too.

Main Gallery in 1927 with skylight ceiling. Phillips Collection Archives.

Barbara Liotta, Icarus, 2009, in Main Gallery. Photo by Sarah Osborne Bender.

Built in May of 1920 as an addition to the Phillips house by famed architects McKim, Meade and White, the Main Gallery was the entirety of The Phillips Memorial Gallery when it officially opened in 1921. Originally the space was light-filled with a glass ceiling. Today, Sue Frank, Associate Curator of Research, describes the space as “beautifully proportioned” and “one of our most versatile spaces.” The gallery is generally hung with a selection from the permanent collection and occasionally used to extend special exhibitions displayed on the third floor. On rare occasions, the space is turned over to a particular artist, as it was recently for the Howard Hodgkin’s colossal prints. As Sue says, “[They] could not be featured in any other gallery in a complimentary fashion because of their size…” Intersections artist Barbara Liotta also used the space for her installation Icarus which resulted in a sparsely hung, but beautiful Main Gallery.

But who knows the Main Gallery best? Possibly our Museum Assistants who spend more time there, and in all of the galleries, than anyone. Tiffany Walls and Rolf Rykken both agree that the gallery, known as “2U” in M.A. lingo, is a quiet spot, good for contemplation. But Quinton Hugger says all that quiet is going to change once the Luncheon of the Boating Party arrives. Rolf remembers the last time the beloved painting was displayed in that gallery, in 2006 when it returned from a world tour. He said the installation in the Main Gallery made for a dramatic “wow” reaction. I can’t wait!

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