Read part one of this post here.
Duncan Phillips appeared to feel tremendous relief and gratitude in his letter of December 30, 1941, to the director, Paul Gardner, of the then William Rockhill Nelson Art Gallery, as he announced the forty paintings from his collection that would seek refuge at the Midwestern museum as Washington, D.C., waited out World War II in post-Pearl Harbor anxiety. He also referenced another “almost equally large number of good pictures” being sent to the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center for the same purpose of safekeeping. By January 3, 1942, Phillips received a letter from Gardner, announcing that the first group of paintings, which had been shipped in batches, had arrived already to great excitement, especially regarding Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party. On its first day on view, January 25, 1942, that painting was written up in the Kansas City Star with the poignant headline, “When France was Free.”
Come October 16, 1942, however, Phillips was reassessing the impact of his decision to harbor his beloved collection so far out of reach. In a letter that day, again to Paul Gardner, he states that the gallery has been “very sadly crippled” by the loans of such works as Cézanne’s Self-Portrait, Manet’s Spanish Ballet, Chardin’s A Bowl of Plums, and El Greco’s The Repentant St. Peter.
I know now we really over-did our precautions in stripping ourselves of quite so many of our 19th century masters. In the case of two of them, Daumier and Cézanne, our loss is deplorable and I am finally compelled to write and ask you to return to us the “Two Sculptors” by Daumier and the Still Life by Cézanne . . . I still feel that the risk of air raids in Washington continues to be a very real one but the National Gallery and other institutions here are exhibiting great pictures and a certain amount of risk for property as well as human life is inevitable in war time.
I was a classical cellist before falling in love with art history, and one of the things that I love about The Phillips Collection is the way art of all kinds is brought together in conversation. In this spirit, the Phillips is hosting singers from Wolf Trap’s bright and talented Filene Young Artists tomorrow at 6:30 pm. Vocal performances are paired with multimedia presentations of works from the Collection – some highlights include pairings of Schubert with Cézanne and Stephen Sondheim’s I’m losing my Mind with Studio Quai Saint-Michel by Matisse. The vocalists will perform in the Phillips’s lush, Victorian music room, where Duncan Phillips and his brother used to relax while they plunked out tunes on the grand piano, making plans for their budding art collection.
Check out some photos from Sunday’s rehearsal!
-Evelyn Gardett, Graduate Intern for Lectures and Programs