Horace Pippin’s The Barracks

"The Barracks", Horace Pippin, 1945, Oil on canvas, 25 1/4 x 30 in.; Acquired 1946

Horace Pippin, The Barracks, 1945, Oil on canvas, 25 1/4 x 30 in., The Phillips Collection, Acquired 1946

According to a letter to Edith Halpert on January 10, 1946, Duncan Phillips exchanged an elaborate still-life by Pippin, Victorian Interior, for this painting, thereby showing a preference for the somber monotones and “restrained colors, black, white, gray, with touches of red” found in this picture. Though vastly different in mood from Domino PlayersThe Barracks shares with that painting a strong abstract design and an evocative sense of place—two qualities dear to Phillips. Both pictures are a synthesis of memory distilled into images of great power.

In The Barracks, Pippin drew on memories of World War I. In March 1917, Pippin joined the New York State 15th National Guard, an African American unit that became the 369th Infantry Regiment when it was incorporated into the U.S. Army. Pippin’s entire war experience abroad centered in France. He was wounded and returned to New York in January 1919, yet it was not until 1945 that this crowded, claustrophobic memory of the animal-like existence of war surfaced. Where another artist might have approached the loss of identity that accompanies military service with a bird’s-eye view of numerous soldiers in formation, Pippin was selective. By including a few individual soldiers arranged on a grid, he evoked the painful quashing of identity that war brought on. The painting also serves, however, as a poignant reminder of racial segregation even in the face of battle.

The Barracks is one of Pippin’s most carefully composed paintings. By including an ashen floor in the foreground, Pippin both softened and lightened this painting. This area appears to be lit by an unseen source much stronger than the candlelight by which the men work or read, perhaps a result of Pippin’s method of working at night under a bright light. Both the eerie light and the wide perspective that interrupts the sense of spatial continuity, detach the scene from the viewer’s space, evoking a universal image of the forlorn monotony of soldier’s lives in wartime.

Women’s History Month: Esther Bubley

To commemorate Women’s History Month, The Phillips Collection will be celebrating female and female identifying artists during the month of March.

Esther Bubley (b. 1921, Wisconsin; d. 1998, New York) was a documentary photographer and photojournalist known for capturing everyday America. Her black-and-white or color photographs contained striking modernist patterns; one of her many strengths was the ability to construct subtle and complex narratives through sequences of photographs.

By 1942, Bubley was living in Washington, DC, and working at the Office of War Information (OWI). For OWI, Bubley was asked to document American bus travel, which had dramatically increased due to the rationing of gasoline and tires during World War II. For her 1943 photo story, Bubley spent over four weeks traveling on buses to Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Chicago, Columbus, Cincinnati, Louisville, Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga, and back to Washington, producing hundreds of images of a country in transition from the Great Depression to a time of war. Bubley focused on the human dimension of mobilization. She carried a “to whom it may concern” letter describing the need for factual photographs of American people needed for progress reports about the war.

Esther Bubley (b. Phillips, Wisconsin, 1921 – d. New York City, 1998) The exterior of the Greyhound bus terminal (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) (Greyhound Bus Series) 1943 Gelatin silver print Gift of Robert and Kathi Steinke, 2014

Esther Bubley, The exterior of the Greyhound bus terminal (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) (Greyhound Bus Series), 1943, Gelatin silver print, The Phillips Collection, Gift of Robert and Kathi Steinke, 2014

Between 1943 and 1950, Standard Oil (New Jersey) sponsored the largest private sector photographic project ever undertaken in America. Besides depicting operations and illustrating the positive impact of the industry on communities, the photographers also documented topics distantly related to oil, forming a pictorial record of the home front during and after World War II. Bubley used her time on assignment for Standard Oil (New Jersey) to explore more abstract work in photography. She visited the plantation of C. L. Hardy in eastern North Carolina; at the time, Hardy was considered the wealthiest man in the state and the largest tobacco grower in the world, with 12,000 acres in Greene and Pitt counties where 150 tenant families lived. Many of the documentary photographs taken at this moment show the tensions between past and present, rural and urban, man and machine, in the transformation of American life.

Bubley, Esther, C.L. Hardy Tobacco Plantation, Maury, NC, 1946, Gelatin silver print overall: 7 1/2 in x 7 3/4 in; 19.05 cm x 19.68 cm. Gift of Cam and Wanda Garner, 2012. Photographs, 2012.017.0017, American.

Esther Bubley, C.L. Hardy Tobacco Plantation, Maury, NC, 1946, Gelatin silver print, The Phillips Collection, Gift of Cam and Wanda Garner, 2012

Asked to chronicle subjects related to Standard Oil (New Jersey), Bubley photographed women working at Rockefeller Center, the headquarters of the company’s photography project. Located at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, the office became a meeting place for the photographers, who freelanced for $150 a week plus expenses.

General Service Department, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York City c. 1950s Gelatin silver print Gift of Cam and Wanda Garner, 2012

Esther Bubley, General Service Department, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York City, c. 1950s, Gelatin silver print, The Phillips Collection, Gift of Cam and Wanda Garner, 2012

In her off hours, Bubley used a large hand-held Rolleiflex camera to take photographs of subjects that interested her around DC. Her image of a young boy near the US Capitol captures feelings of loneliness and longing. The demand for low cost housing and the lack of affordable transportation for workers was a major contributor to alley dwellings in Washington. Following the creation in 1934 of the Alley Dwelling Authority, the city’s first public housing agency, some alley dwellings disappeared as new housing was created on the edges of the city.

Esther Bubley (b. Phillips, Wisconsin, 1921 – d. New York City, 1998) A Child Whose Home Is an Alley Dwelling near the Capitol 1943 Gelatin silver print Gift of Cam and Wanda Garner, 2012

Esther Bubley, A Child Whose Home Is an Alley Dwelling near the Capitol, 1943, Gelatin silver print, The Phillips Collection, Gift of Cam and Wanda Garner, 2012

The Phillips Collection houses over 100 photographs by Esther Bubley. Her prints have been acquired by several museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Library of Congress, Washington, DC; the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC; the George Eastman House, Rochester; and the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Texas.

Women’s History Month: Helen Torr

To commemorate Women’s History Month, The Phillips Collection will be celebrating female and female identifying artists during the month of March.

Helen Torr (b. 1886, Pennsylvania; d. 1967, New York) was an American Modernist painter. She sometimes was referred to as “reds” because of her flaming red auburn hair.

I, 1935. Oil on canvas, 19 1/4" x 13 1/4". Smith Collecge Museum of Art, Northampton, MA

Helen Torr, I, 1935. Oil on canvas, 19 1/4 x 13 1/4 in. Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, MA

Torr’s style was completely, or nearly completely, abstract, though she sometimes departed from this style when creating landscape or still life works, shifting between representation and abstraction. She is noted to have been heavily influenced by her friends Marsden Hartley and Georgia O’Keeffe.

Helen Torr, Heckscher Park, 1932, Oil on canvas overall: 21 3/4 in x 15 1/2 in., Gift of John and Diane Rehm, 2013

Helen Torr, Heckscher Park, 1932, Oil on canvas, 21 3/4 x 15 1/2 in., The Phillips Collection, Gift of John and Diane Rehm, 2013

Torr’s works were exhibited publicly only twice during her life. After her husband, Arthur Dove, passed away, she never resumed painting and wished her artworks be destroyed. However, her sister donated most of her work to the Heckscher Museum, which organized a show of her work in 1972. That exhibition was followed in 1980 with a solo show at the Graham Gallery. You can find her work here at The Phillips Collection, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Helen Torr, Abstract Composition #1, , Pencil on paper overall: 3 7/8 in x 4 3/8 in; Gift of John and Diane Rehm, 2013

Helen Torr, Abstract Composition #1, Pencil on paper, 3 7/8 in x 4 3/8 in., The Phillips Collection, Gift of John and Diane Rehm, 2013

By JamiLee Hoglind, a graduating Senior at Galludet University and a Phillips Marketing and Communications intern