Treasures by Arthur Hall Smith

A plate from Arthur's handmade book for the Phillipses showing visiting nuns admiring Matisse's Studio, Quai Saint-Michel, 1916.

A plate from Arthur’s handmade book for the Phillips’s showing visiting nuns admiring Matisse’s Studio, Quai Saint-Michel. The Phillips Collection Archives, Washington D.C.

Arthur Hall Smith was a beloved employee during his tenure at The Phillips Collection, from 1960-1974. In 1960, the Phillips expanded into an annex which generated the need for more staff. In an oral history, Smith recalled interviewing for the job: “I bought a new pair of shoes and I went out to the Phillips’s house for the interview… they showed me a model of the new building and where they wanted to place me, which was the second floor because it had the Renoir, the Bonnards–really the ‘high rent place’ and he [Duncan Phillips] thought I would be a good welcoming presence there.” Arthur’s welcoming presence and French speaking ability made him a frequent guest at the home of Duncan and Marjorie Phillips, and unofficial translator for tours and foreign visitors to the museum.

Arthur made the Phillips’s a miniature book for Christmas one year, with depictions of the Phillips house with people, including two nuns, looking at paintings in the collection. During the major Cézanne exhibition in 1971, Smith went to a nearby “head shop” which sold pipes and other drug paraphernalia. The store also sold all kinds of buttons, so Smith got thirty of them and painted them ochre with a hand-painted Braque bird and the word “Staff,” and finished them with a heavy lacquer.

Handmade staff buttons

Handmade staff buttons. The Phillips Collection Archives, Washington D.C.

Arthur died in February of 2013 in Paris, France, where he lived for many years. A transcript of his oral history interview is available in the library.

In Memory of Anita Reiner

Anita Reiner standing in front a human figure cloaked in black.

Photo: Courtesy Wendy Grossman

Passionate art lover and Phillips friend Anita Reiner passed away on August 15, 2013. Anita and her husband, Burton, became International Forum members in 2009 and enthusiastically joined Phillips trips to Dallas-Fort Worth and Art Basel Miami Beach.

Phillips Curatorial Associate Wendy Grossman relays this touching story of Anita’s early connection with the Phillips:

“A serendipitous encounter at The Phillips Collection in the early years of her quest to learn about modern art was instrumental in shaping the open-minded attitude that ultimately guided Anita’s collecting philosophy. While looking inquisitively at the newly installed paintings by Mark Rothko, she was approached by an elderly gentleman—as she tells it—who asked her what she thought. To which she mumbled an indifferent reply. The man told her: ‘Young lady, you always have to meet new art half way.’ She never forgot that. The man, she subsequently learned, was Duncan Phillips.”

Excavating the Archives: Tracing Duncan Phillips’s Thoughts on Modern Art

Journals and manuscripts written by Duncan Phillips on display as part of the exhibition, History in the Making: 100 Years After the Armory Show. Photos: Joshua Navarro

Journals and manuscripts written by Duncan Phillips on display as part of the exhibition, History in the Making: 100 Years After the Armory Show. Photo: Joshua Navarro

“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.” – Gwendolyn, The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

It would appear that Duncan Phillips wasn’t one to travel without his diary either. Although perhaps not quite so scrupulous as Oscar Wilde’s Victorian characters, Phillips enjoyed the habit of journal keeping, from documenting voyages overseas to exacting notes on the price and shipment of a new work of art for his growing collection. More than a century after Duncan Phillips began writing about art, The Phillips Collection has meticulously archived his diaries, daybooks, and drafts for later publications in its library.

But Phillips wrote for more than his own personal satisfaction – it seems evident that his diaries were one place where Phillips grew from an admirer and collector to an esteemed critic of art. He edited his own journals, inserting marginalia and crossing out entire paragraphs or even pages as his ideas changed. Phillips’s publications sometimes developed over the course of several years; for example, his 1924 deluxe edition monograph on artist Arthur B. Davies was the result of thoughts and essays Phillips had written since 1916. The museum’s library and archives still contain each of these drafts, and of course, the final product which is now on display in History in the Making: 100 Years After the Armory Show.

Perhaps most striking in Phillips’s thought is how it changed over time, especially with regard to works of art he saw in the 1913 Armory Show. This exhibition, which was lambasted by the press, was equally troubling to Phillips. But with time the young collector’s opinion changed. His journals and many drafts express this. Writing on the Armory Show in several drafts throughout the 1910s and 20s, Phillips first characterized the exhibition as “notorious,” then as “startling,” and finally as “sensational” in his Collection in the Making (1926). Furthermore, the artists that he had seen in 1913 became more palatable as he trained his eye as a collector. Matisse and Cézanne, whom he once decried as “damned fools,” became highlights of his collection.

As a curatorial intern working on the Armory Show this summer, I had the chance to excavate the archives and help identify this dramatic shift in Phillips’s thinking. I have to say I agree with Gwendolyn, journals make for quite sensational reading.

Anna Rotrosen, Curatorial Intern