Thank You for a Great December!

Overflow coat check at admissions, December 30, 2013. Photo: Sarah Osborne Bender

Overflow coat check at admissions, December 30, 2013. Photo: Sarah Osborne Bender

Starting with the government shutdown in October and the opening of Van Gogh Repetitions, we knew we were in for a busy season here. But it was one heck of a December for the Phillips as we welcomed 24,558 visitors (well above our budget attendance of 19,800.) The shop likely had its highest sales month ever, 21% over last December during our Degas exhibition. And the café was so popular, they had to fashion a sign announcing when capacity was reached. (And it has spent a lot of time on display.)

To all of our visitors and members (new and old), thank you for making this such a successful month. And to our colleagues on the front lines selling tickets and signing up members, checking coats, staffing and stocking the shop, making lattes and ladling soups in the café, and, most of all, keeping the artworks secure, THANK YOU!

The Space Between Van Gogh’s Repetitions

Gus Heagerty, assistant director at Shakespeare Theatre Company, guest blogs today about the upcoming staged reading of Vincent in Brixton at the Phillips on Jan. 9 at 6 pm.

Berceuse comparison

Left: Vincent van Gogh, Lullaby: Madame Augustine Roulin Rocking a Cradle (La Berceuse), 1889. Oil on canvas, 36 1/2 x 28 5/8 in. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Bequest of John T. Spaulding; Right: Vincent van Gogh, Madame Roulin Rocking the Cradle (La Berceuse), 1889. Oil on canvas, 36 1/2 x 29 1/2 in. Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection. The Art Institute of Chicago

After visiting the Van Gogh Repetitions exhibition at the Phillips, I am filling in the blanks between each “repetition.” What was happening to Vincent between each pass at a portrait, or landscape? What spurs an artist to return to a figure or subject, over and over? We repeat to practice. We repeat to perfect. Perhaps we repeat because we feel we’ve grasped a greater understanding of the figure or landscape. Our repetitions refine our point of view. What is van Gogh attempting to refine in his repetitions?

Vincent in Brixton

Vincent in Brixton performed at the Old Globe in 2005

The many letters we are left with, and Nicholas Wright’s play Vincent in Brixton, acquaint us with a man straddling hemispheres of choice. At its core, the play imagines Vincent as he defines the difference between living life as an artist, and life as a man lead by his faith.

The play spans three years, each scene taking place around a “big wooden table, functional, and unusual.” Vincent will revisit this table, again and again, throughout the play. There is a force, sometimes known and sometimes unknown to him, drawing him back to the table. What he gathers at the table is the seed of what grows into a magnificent life as an artist.

Gus Heagerty, assistant director at Shakespeare Theatre Company

My Hide and Seek Story

Chase

William Merritt Chase, Hide and Seek, 1888. Oil on canvas, 27 5/8 x 35 7/8 in. Acquired 1923. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC

After working at the Phillips Collection for 4 years, many of the artworks have become familiar friends. Hide and Seek, a painting by American artist William Merritt Chase, is definitely one such painting. When I initially looked at this work, I couldn’t help but imagine a story about two girls, sisters, playing hide in seek in their grand old house somewhere in New England. The girl in the lower left, the older sister, is peering out behind the wall to get a glimpse of where her younger sister is about to hide. I hear the quiet footsteps as the younger sister carefully finds a place, the giggle of the older sister laughing at her deception, and the clanging of pots and pans in the adjacent kitchen (not pictured) as the mother prepares dinner for the girls.

I see Hide and Seek so frequently that I forgot that my story about the artwork was just that–a story, made up from my imagination and not the actual intention of the artist. I recently included Hide and Seek on a tour and asked two related questions: “What is going on in this artwork? What is the story?” These simple questions lead to flurry of ideas and even more questions from the visitors as they created stories of their own–who are the girls? How do they know each other? Which girl is hiding and which girl is seeking? How many others are playing and are hiding out of our view? Are we, as the viewers, part of the game? I was pleased to hear so many interpretations of the work, especially ones that challenged my assumptions of who the girls are and how the game is being played. Next time you visit the Phillips, keep the question “what is the story?” in your mind, you just might make a few new friends.

Ellen Stedtefeld, Gallery Educator