D-Day and Monet: Sacrifice and Art

What do you think of when you think of the beaches of Normandy (which you might be thinking a lot about on Saturday, June 6)? Bravery? Sacrifice? Freedom? Of course. In the 71 years since the allied invasion of Normandy, these beaches have become symbols of all these things and more. But what about ambience? Light? Color palette? Probably less so. While the sacrifice of brave soldiers will always remain deeply engrained in the heart of Normandy, this landscape is also symbolic of another important group that thrived less than 50 years before: the Impressionists.


Claude Monet, Val-Saint-Nicolas, near Dieppe (Morning), 1897. Oil on canvas, 25 1/2 x 39 3/8 in. Acquired 1959, The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC

Long before the cliffs and beaches of Normandy were chosen for their strategic military location, they were singled out by Impressionist artists of the late 19th-century for their aesthetic value. Artists such as Claude Monet and Pierre Bonnard chose to paint the area of Normandy for its singular beauty and unique artistic attributes. Monet spent 40 years of his life painting scenes of the Normandy coast from Honfleur to Dieppe and it was a piece in this series that Duncan Phillips chose for his collection. Phillips believed Val-Saint-Nicolas near Dieppe (morning) to be one of the most beautiful works by Monet he had seen, as well as an excellent representation of the artist’s technique. Monet often chose scenes that would illicit an emotional response from his viewer. As you can see, the light in the painting reflects off the carefully chosen color palette to reflect the morning ambience as the sun rises over the cliffs of the Val-Saint-Nicolas, less than 200 km from the Allied landings 47 years later.

Personally, I find the dual significance of this location to be fascinating. How could an area once so renowned for its beauty and tranquility become a symbol of ultimate sacrifice? Of course the real answer is tactics—the Allies weren’t concerned with its aesthetic past when evaluating its military value—but it still makes you wonder. So next time you look at a famous place or monument, consider it from another perspective. The beaches of Normandy prove that even the most somber place, can also be the most beautiful.

Allyson Hitte, Marketing & Communications Intern

One Collection to Another: Exploring The Kreeger Museum

Compilation of images from paintings and sculpture from the Kreeger Museum's collection

Sculptures, paintings, architecture, and members of the Phillips’s communications staff at The Kreeger Museum. Photos: Amy Wike

To take advantage of the dwindling sunny days and for a little inspiration, the Phillips communications and marketing department recently took a field trip to the nearby Kreeger Museum. It was a treat to see some of the stars from our own collection—Braque, BonnardMonet, and Picasso, to name a few—in a new light, and I could spend days in the Dan Steinhilber: Marlin Underground exhibition (on view through Dec. 29, 2012). The image at lower left in the collage above is just a corner of the gargantuan inflatable sculpture Steinhilber has created for visitors to run around in.

Of particular note was this incredible watercolor by Piet Mondrian. After a lifetime of associating the name “Mondrian” with flat, grid paintings in primary colors, I had to do a triple-take of the artist name.

Located on Foxhall Road, the Kreeger is just down the street from the house Duncan and Marjorie Phillips built in 1929, affectionately named “Dunmarlin” after Duncan (father), Marjorie (mother), and Laughlin (son). The building no longer stands, but it housed the family after their residence at 21st and Q Streets was fully converted to a museum.

Amy Wike, Publicity and Marketing Coordinator

The Artist Sees Differently: Darci Vanderhoff

Darci Vanderhoff, Chief Information Officer, on the mic

Darci Vanderhoff, Chief Information Officer, on the mic! Photo: Joshua Navarro

DARCI VANDERHOFF, Chief Information Officer

How did you learn about the Phillips?

I originally came to Phillips exhibitions as an art enthusiast. One of my favorite shows was Impressionists in Winter in 1998. I didn’t even mind the long lines (once I got inside). Several years later, I came to sell the Phillips on the idea of online ticketing. Then, in 2001, I applied for the IT Director position when it became available at the museum.

You formerly worked as a writer, you’re a musician in a band. Do you feel you are inspired by the Phillips art? 

I worked at the editorial desk of the Washington office of the Wall Street Journal for a number of years, and then left to freelance in both writing and photography. I was published locally as well as in Dallas, Detroit, and other cities. I did research for Judy Woodruff’s book This is Judy Woodruff at the White HouseRadcliffe College’s Arthur Schlesinger Library (a women’s archive) holds a collection of my articles and photographs. I eventually became a music critic, and at the suggestion of musician friends, I decided to attend music school myself. It was a radical idea to me, so I took to it immediately. After getting my feet wet in a local music school for a year, I enrolled at Berklee College of Music in the mid-1980s with a scholarship.

I am a musician. I primarily sing but also write. My degree is in songwriting. I am one of thirteen in the local band Cleve Francis and Friends. We routinely play at The Birchmere in Alexandra, Virginia, and at local benefits. We released a CD, Storytime: Live at the Birchmere, in 2009. In addition to singing, I am the “administrator” of the group: setting rehearsal schedules, digitally recording rehearsals, distributing recordings, managing databases, etc., which is where my digital skill-set comes in handy. I am the only woman in the group. Go figure. I recently joined a smaller group doing more instrumental music across a wide spectrum of genres. Instrumentation includes keyboards, guitar, upright bass, and vocals (three of us sing). I’m having fun doing lead vocals again.

Yes, I am inspired by the art at the Phillips, and even more by the artists who work here. Most of my coworkers are brilliantly creative people.

Do you listen to anything as you do your artwork?

My “artwork” is primarily music. I listen to a lot of music during my work commute, but I also use that time to prep for shows. The rehearsing could be considered a driving distraction, I guess, but it’s been a part of my commute for some time, so I think I balance the two well. Don’t tell anyone.

Who’s your favorite artist in the collection?

I am very fond of Claude Monet, Georgia O’Keeffe, Edward Hopper, Jacob Lawrence, Paul Dougherty, Childe Hassam, Gustave Courbet, and our growing photography collections.                   

Do you collect other artwork – or anything?

I collect a few things:  I have a striped beach rock collection, mostly from Plum Island in Massachusetts where I strolled often while going to school. I have a Washington Nationals bobble-head collection that is in need of attention. I also collect art. One of my favorite acquisitions was purchased from one of the Phillips museum assistants in a staff show: a colorful photograph of multiple faucet handles from an abandoned steel mill in Pittsburgh. Clearly, I trend toward water themes.

 And do you have a favorite Marjorie Phillips painting?

I like Nuns on the Roof, too.

Hear Darci’s song, “Every Little Bit”

-Rolf Rykken