Phillips History on View: A Need for Arts Education


Duncan Phillips at Yale University

When Duncan Phillips arrived at Yale University in 1904, he was interested in pursuing English and writing. He wrote about art during his time there, but was disappointed at the absence of an art curriculum; Yale had dropped its only art history course due to a lack of student interest. After visits to the Met in New York, Duncan penned the essay “The Need of Art at Yale,” which issued “a reasoned plea for the creation of a course in art history that would prepare students” for enjoyment of the world (George Heard Hamilton, The Eye of Duncan Phillips: A Collection in the Making).

Duncan Phillips’s views on arts education are as relevant as ever. His essay reads, “A wider diffusion of artistic knowledge and instinct would give birth and guidance to dormant individualities of taste, and would not only increase the number of future artists and art critics, but would help to color the lives of the future citizens of the republic, and thus advance the precious cause of the beautiful, in this marvelous breathless modern world.” With this, Duncan put art as a prerequisite to experiencing humanity and served as an early advocate for arts education.

Maya Simkin, Library Intern

Phillips History on View: Marjorie

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Marjorie Phillips in 1969

One of my favorite photographs in the archives is of Marjorie Phillips in 1969 when she was Director of the museum installing a Hundertwasser exhibition alongside Jim McLaughlin, the museum’s curator. She stands in a room, framed by doorway, giving the viewer a glimpse into the workings of installing exhibitions and putting her front and center, instrumental to the process. As Marjorie looks pensively at the unhung pieces, her image is reflected in the glass of one of the works. The hints of color expose the transition between Duncan and Marjorie’s directorship, with his death preceding the Hundertwasser exhibition by three years.

Marjorie was responsible for many milestones in The Phillips Collection’s history. She opened the museum’s first show of outdoor sculpture after putting together a landmark show, “Birds in Contemporary Art” in 1966. In the catalog for it she writes “in no half century has there been such a diversity of concepts, of materials used, degrees of abstraction or realism experimented with!” Marjorie was a confident director with an artist’s eye who was formative for the museum.

Maya Simkin, Library Intern

Phillips History on View: An Introduction

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Head Librarian Karen Schneider taking notes on manuscripts up for consideration in the exhibition.

The first month of my internship at The Phillips Collection was spent working with the Library and Archives to organize a salon-style installation about the life of Duncan Phillips and the history of the collection. Albeit a daunting task, this project is exactly what I needed. It provided a necessary background on the museum and put the collection into context. While unearthing old photographs, correspondence, and manuscripts, I’ve slowly absorbed the foundation of the museum while simultaneously learning how exhibitions are organized. I’ve learned interesting stories, seen great photographs, and learned the art ideologies and artist relationships behind the museum. I’m looking forward to sharing them over the next few weeks here on the blog!

Maya Simkin, Library Intern

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Head Librarian Karen Schneider determining an order for our selected photographs from the archives