Though Duncan Phillips never fought on the front lines, his patriotism and support of U.S. troops in both World War I and II was a driving force in his life. Marjorie Phillips wrote in her book Duncan Phillips and his Collection that both Duncan and his brother Jim volunteered in 1917, but neither was physically fit enough for military service. Considerably underweight for a soldier or sailor, Phillips looked for other ways to serve. During the First World War, he and his dear friend painter Augustus Vincent Tack oversaw the Division of Exhibitions in New York City’s Committee on Arts and Decoration, “organized for the purpose of developing the field of art in connection with the war, where the services of artists, architects, sculptors and those practising the allied arts are employed.” This effort resulted in the formation of the Allied War Salon, an exhibition of works displayed at the American Art Galleries near New York’s Madison Square in December 1918. Alongside works by American painters such as Childe Hassam, George Bellows, and George Luks, were nearly 200 drawings by official United States Army artists who had recently returned home from France. Writing about these artists in particular in a December 10, 1918, review, the New York Times reported: “Each of them now writes ‘Captain’ before his name, but the style of the work has not changed at all.”
During World War II, Phillips elaborated his personal feelings about art and patriotism in writing and in public address. But the Times summed up his goals nicely in the last line of the aforementioned review: “There is a certain freshness and directness in the American appeal that expresses the youth and courage of the county as it has not often been expressed in its art.” Phillips felt that not only the act of creating art but the acts of viewing and contemplating art had a power for conveying a spirit of pride, peace, and brotherhood.
Learn more about the painting above, Blue Devils on Fifth Avenue (1918) by George Luks, which was part of the Allied War Salon, in this earlier post.