Start the Art: Fainting Couch

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While the Made in the USA exhibition occupies most of the museum’s galleries, the original Phillips house is devoted to new treasures and old favorites. We are so excited to display an especially unique recent acquisition, Valeksa Soares’s Fainitng Couch (2011). This multisensory work invites visitors to repose on a stainless steel chaise as they take in the heady olfactory notes of real stargazer lilies—60 to 80 blooms in all—which are stored in drawers built underneath the metal seating.

In order to maintain the pleasant aroma, the lilies must be replaced on a weekly basis, a task that has fallen to none other than the Phillips’s Chief of Security and Operations Dan Datlow! Working directly with the collection wasn’t something Dan ever thought would be part of his daily activities, but he readily admits that he enjoys the responsibility. “The couch demonstrates that the Phillips isn’t a static building, but an active, modern institution. It really makes me appreciate what we do here,” Dan says. “I don’t really look at replacing the lilies as work, it’s actually very therapeutic. I jump at any opportunity to work with the collection like this.”

Soares’s Fainting Couch is on display through the end of April, so make sure you come by and take in the “scent-sational” experience for yourself!

Busman’s Holiday

The Finance Department took a day away from their offices to do what? Why, to visit other museums, of course!

Cherie Nichols, director of budgeting and reporting, Lydia O'Connor, finance assistant, and Earl Richards, senior accountant with the art bus at the American Visionary Art Museum.

Cherie Nichols, director of budgeting and reporting, Lydia O’Connor, finance assistant, and Earl Richards, senior accountant, with the art bus at the American Visionary Art Museum.

Every year as a treat for completing our annual financial audit, The Phillips Collection finance staff retreat on a post-audit outing. This year we decided as a group to travel to Baltimore and visit the fabulous American Visionary Art Museum before heading to the Baltimore Museum of Art for lunch at Gertrude’s  and a preview peek at the newly returned Renoir painting On the Shore of the Seine (c. 1879).

I couldn’t resist running away with the Renoir, and the cameras caught me in my enthusiasm!

#RenoirReturns  #BMAselfie

#RenoirReturns #BMAselfie

Despite the busman’s holiday, we returned to the Phillips refreshed and ready to face another fiscal year!

Lydia O’Connor, Finance Assistant

Maybe It’s the Chair?

(Left) Thomas Eakins, An Actress (Portrait of Suzanne Santje), 1903, Oil on canvas, 79 3/4 x 59 7/8 inches (202.6 x 152.1 cm), Gift of Mrs. Thomas Eakins and Miss Mary Adeline Williams, 1929. The Philadelphia Museum of Art. (Right) Thomas Eakins, Miss Amelia Van Buren, ca. 1891, Oil on canvas 45 x 32 in.; 114.3 x 81.28 cm. Acquired 1927. The Phillips Collection, Washington DC.

(Left) Thomas Eakins, An Actress (Portrait of Suzanne Santje), 1903, Oil on canvas, 79 3/4 x 59 7/8 inches (202.6 x 152.1 cm), Gift of Mrs. Thomas Eakins and Miss Mary Adeline Williams, 1929. The Philadelphia Museum of Art. (Right) Thomas Eakins, Miss Amelia Van Buren, ca. 1891, Oil on canvas 45 x 32 in.; 114.3 x 81.28 cm. Acquired 1927. The Phillips Collection, Washington DC.

Recently, I came across Thomas Eakins’s An Actress (Portrait of Suzanne Santje) (1903) in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and chuckled at the sight of yet another put-upon woman in a pink dress in an Eakins portrait. We’ve been having a bit of fun at the expense of Miss Amelia Van Buren (1891) who hangs on the first floor of our Sant Building as part of Made in the USA; a caption contest invites people to leave notes answering the question “What is Amelia Thinking?” But really, why are these women so down in these portraits?

Many scholars note that Eakins often aged his subjects, especially women. William J. Clark’s essay, “The Iconography of Gender in Thomas Eakins Portraiture“, claims that in photographs contemporary to the painted portrait of Santje, she is youthful, confident. Yet here, she is heavy and drained, swamped in spilling pink fabric. A portrait of her husband looms over her shoulder and a script has fallen, as if dropped from a lifeless hand, onto the floor.  William S. McFeely, in his biography of Eakins, is fascinated by the Van Buren portrait and describes her dress as “ill-fitting” and “out-of-date.” She looks, presumably, outdoors and away from the gloomy interior setting.  Clark compares her painted portrait to the photographs Eakins took of her in which her hair appears blonde, not streaked grey, and her skin is smooth and bright. Art historian Gordon Hendricks quotes Leonard Baskin when he suggests that Eakins was intentionally burdening women in his portraits to reflect the “Victorian horror of their lives.”

Or, maybe, it’s just that uncomfortable chair.