Museums and the National Spirit: The Allied War Salon

George Luks, Blue Devils on Fifth Avenue, 1918, Oil on canvas; 38 5/8 x 44 1/2 in.; 98.1075 x 113.03 cm.. Acquired 1918.

This post is the second in a series in honor of the Blue Star Museums Initiative. See the previous installment here.

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.

Museums and the National Spirit: Blue Star Museums

This post is the first in a series in honor of the Blue Star Museums Initiative.

The Phillips Collection, with over 1,500 other institutions across the country, has been participating in the Blue Star Museums program since Memorial Day. The initiative, which encourages military families to spend time together at a museum or other cultural institution by offering free admission, ends Labor Day.

I’m probably not unique in being a museum professional with very little exposure to the military. And when I first heard about Blue Star Museums, I have to admit that the collaboration didn’t make sense to me. What would a joint venture between the military and an art museum look like? I went to the Blue Star Museums blog to learn more.

It was this video that really made an impact on me. Though their voices sound casual, the comments from these military family members describe fundamental experiences that civilian families take for granted: the importance of simply spending time together, making new memories to carry with them while they’re apart, getting to know their home towns in different ways between deployments or new homes while stationed in unfamiliar places. Blue Star Museums is a worthy project and highlights the effect museums, cultural institutions, and art can have on people in times that are challenging.

The power of art and museums on national spirit was not lost on our founder Duncan Phillips. Even some of the artists in our collection, military service members themselves, benefited from his efforts. In upcoming posts this week, I’ll explore the relationship between war and patriotism as seen in our museum’s history and collection.