Phillips Flashback: Neither Rain Nor Sleet…

As I worked on an ongoing project to organize Duncan Phillips’s correspondence, I was surprised to see many letters that were sent and received on subsequent days as well as on the same day. Phillips was a prolific letter writer who probably wrote at least ten letters a day, primarily to artists and art galleries.

Phillips’s correspondence with photographer, gallery dealer, and advocate for modern art Alfred Stieglitz began in 1926 and continued until 1946, the year of Stieglitz’s death.

On March 4, 1926, Stieglitz wrote a letter to Phillips in which he spoke about his wife Georgia O’Keeffe’s recent visit to The Phillips Collection. He stated, “She returned from Washington full of rare enthusiasm. She thoroughly enjoyed every moment with you and Mrs. Phillips and the pictures. She tells every one worthwhile what splendid work you are doing. Your Courbets and Daumier, the Renoir, El Greco she tells me about…She is painting and doing incredible work.”

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Letter from Alfred Stieglitz to Duncan Phillips, March 4, 1926 (page 1)

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Letter from Alfred Stieglitz to Duncan Phillips, March 4, 1926 (page 2)

Phillips replied on the same day: “It was a great pleasure to show our treasures to Georgia O’Keefe and to know her better. She is certainly a rare person and my wife and I were delighted to discover in her so sensitive and generous a responce to many different kinds of artistic expression. We were only sorry you were not with her but hope you can see the Collection very soon.”

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Letter from Duncan Phillips to Alfred Stieglitz, March 4, 926

According to the 1922 Annual Report of the Postmaster General, smaller cities averaged three to four mail deliveries per day, and larger cities received deliveries three to seven times a day. We can only dream of such an efficient mail service today.

O’Keeffe’s Black Iris VI

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Georgia O’Keeffe, Black Iris VI, 1936. Oil on canvas, 36 x 24 in. Paul G. Allen Family Collection. © 2015 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

When we think of landscapes, we often think of sweeping scenes of open fields or sun-drenched canyons. But Georgia O’Keeffe’s Black Iris VI, like many other works on view in Seeing Nature: Landscape Masterworks from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection, approaches nature from a different point of view. This work zooms squarely in on the center of a single open flower.

In the summer of 1936, O’Keeffe was back in her beloved New Mexico, feeling a resurgence of spirit and enjoying her first sustained painting since suffering a nervous breakdown three years earlier. It is a mystery just why the iris appeared among the subjects she painted at Ghost Ranch, outside Santa Fe, though the sculptural petals of this elongated blossom are not unlike the bleached bones she collected. The flower’s black center even appears like the eye sockets of a cow’s skull. Like the skull, the iris has a spiritual presence and is a vessel holding the secret of life and the mystery of death.

Music to our Ears…

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Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks. Photo: Santa Savisko-Jekabsone

Pleasing notes and lively melodies will soon be reverberating through the decorated halls of our museum. As part of the Leading European Composers series, the great Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks will lead the RIX Piano Quartet and flutist Dita Krenberga on February 12th at 6:30 pm. Trained as a violinist, the composer grew up during Soviet regime and was able to quickly catapult himself into the greats of European composers after receiving countless Latvian music awards and the Cannes Classical Awards in 2004.

Just as many of Georgia O’Keeffe’s works were, Vasks’s compositions are inspired by the complex relationship between man and nature. His music speaks to the world’s beauty, but also to imminent ecological and moral destruction. In conveying his message, Vasks incorporates animated folk elements from Latvian music with a contemporary angle. This stellar musical performance, in collaboration with the Embassy of Latvia and The George Washington University, will surely be one for the books.

Aysia Woods, Marketing Intern