A few months back, many art lovers were interested to read a Washington Post profile on Andrew Robison, National Gallery of Art curator of prints, watercolors, drawings, and rare illustrated books, and his “unique” system of identifying works in his collections that are of greatest value in the event of emergency evacuation. Though NGA director Rusty Powell explains that this is not the museum’s primary security program for its 116,000 items, Robison’s method was not dissimilar to one used by our founder in the 1940s. Duncan Phillips, no stranger to ranking his collection, put his evaluative skills to work to protect his collection in a time of national threat.
From January 1942 until September 1944, Phillips sent 33 works from his collection on the road to the Colorado Springs Fine Art Center to be displayed and stored in safety as Washington, D.C., waited out the possibility of German air attacks during World War II. Around 40 pieces from the collection were also sent to what is now the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City for the same purpose. The National Gallery of Art took similar action during this time, sending some of their paintings and sculptures to Biltmore House in western North Carolina.