Interpreting Per Kirkeby

Per Kirkeby_Untitled

Per Kirkeby, Untitled, 1991

My initial response to Per Kirkeby‘s Untitled, on view in Postwar Germanic Expressions, is that it reminds me of the type of painting (if you can call it that) that I used to love doing as a child—remember these? They started out as heavy sheets of paper coated in black paint, but underneath was a hidden rainbow of colors. With a coin or a pencil, you could scratch off the black coat, allowing the colors to show.

When looking more closely at this painting, what comes to mind is that this is some sort of interpretation of one’s feelings. A pathetic fallacy, but in art. The dominance of the dark colors and the black in parallel to the small quantities of colorful ones taps into my emotions. I interpret the emotions behind this work as either depression or some sort of rebirth after tremendous pain. On the one hand, the dark colors closing in with only faint glimmers of light impart a certain sadness. On the other hand, the yellow paint and colors shining through cracks in the black background might signify a new beginning.

In the yellow splashes of paint, I see the outline of a paper plane; perhaps a tool planted here by the artist to let go and fly away from these emotions.

Olivia Bensimon, Marketing & Communications Intern

The Five Senses: Sight

One gallery in Seeing Nature is dedicated to Jan Brueghel the Younger’s The Five Senses series. Painted in 1625, this series is a close copy of five paintings by Brueghel’s father, Jan Brueghel the Elder (who painted the backgrounds) and Peter Paul Rubens (who painted the figures) in 1617–18, now in the Museo del Prado in Madrid. Each painting focuses on one of the five senses, providing a platform for visitors to consider their own encounters with nature. Today we focus on Sight.


Jan Brueghel the Younger, The Five Senses: Sight, c. 1625. Oil on panel, 27 5/8 x 44 5/8 in. Paul G. Allen Family Collection

Jan Brueghel the Younger worked in a similar painting style to his father, and followed his father’s practice of depicting art galleries of both existing and imaginary collections. The painting Sight was most important—the foundation for art and science, making possible everything from sculpture and painting to celestial navigation, measurement, and mapping the globe.

Sight shows how art collections reflect both the wealth and the learning of their owners. It is a fitting allusion to the current owner of the painting, Mr. Allen, as well as the history of The Phillips Collection.

Honoring Charles Moffett

Charles Moffett and Laughlin Phillips

(Left) Charles Moffett and (right) Laughlin Phillips. Photo courtesy of The Phillips Collection

The Phillips Collection and the greater art community suffered an enormous loss with the passing of former Phillips Collection Director Charles Moffett. He was a beloved leader, curator, and friend.

Charlie was Director of the Phillips from 1992–1998, bringing with him years of curatorial experience from his time at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Gallery of Art, and the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco.

In 1996, The Phillips Collection celebrated its 75th anniversary. In honor of that banner year, Charlie worked with the staff to initiate a major exhibition, Impressionists on the Seine: A Celebration of Renoir’s “Luncheon of the Boating Party.” The exhibition was by far the institution’s most ambitious to date, organized around Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s iconic painting. The exhibition proved to be the most successful show to date in the history of the museum, with nearly 200,000 visitors over the course of its five month run. Due to its enormous popularity, the show was extended for a two week period, and all attendance records for a single exhibition at the museum were shattered.

A specialist in late-19th-century French painting, Charlie went on to organize the successful, nationally touring Impressionists in Winter: Effets de Neige, on view at the Phillips in 1998, and Impressionist Still Life, co-organized with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, held at the Phillips in 2001–2002.

In honor of Charlie Moffett’s memory and many contributions, The Phillips Collection hosted Dr. Richard Brettell, one of the world’s foremost authorities on Impressionism and 1830–1930 French painting and friend of Charlie, for a lecture titled All Together in One Room: The Impressionist Exhibition of 1882, on March 17, 2016. Our staff remembers Charlie as a wonderful colleague, who connected deeply with the collection. His detail-oriented perfectionism and inclination toward lofty institutional goals contributed to the pioneering mindset that the Phillips and its staff so value today.

See Dr. Richard Brettell’s lecture in full in this video: