It’s been four years since I started to research the American collection at the Phillips as the curator of an international exhibition, To See As Artists See: American Art from The Phillips Collection, intended to feature the broad scope of the museum’s American holdings from 1850 to 1960. One fascinating aspect of our American collection that I discovered is the number of works painted in far-flung places that were certainly not typical destinations for American or European artists. Like all traveling exhibition projects, not everything of interest could be on the final checklist for reasons that range from condition of the work to available gallery space in other institutions. Even though the idea of “exotic locales” could not be explored in the traveling show, it continued to have a firm foothold in my imagination, and I always hoped there would be an opportunity to play with the idea in The Phillips Collection’s own galleries. This summer is that moment, and I’m grateful to my fellow curators for their enthusiastic support. Our one room installation in the original Phillips house is organized around “American Artists Travel to Exotic Locales.” It includes Chiefs and Performers in Fiji, an 1891 watercolor by John La Farge; Samoa, a 1907 painting by Louis Michael Eilshemius; Benares, a large 1912 canvas by Maurice Sterne inspired by the ancient and holy city along the Ganges River; two small 1918 oil sketches of Persia (today’s Iran) by Harold Weston; Waterfall, Haiti, a 1954 Gifford Beal canvas that is a large, loosely brushed and expressionistic interpretation of the lush and exotic landscape of that Caribbean island; and Leopard Hunter, from 1930 or before, by the French-born American painter Jean Charlot that is an imaginative depiction of a local hunter in the tropical Mexican forest.
The installation is a great chance to travel vicariously and have some summer fun.
Susan Behrends Frank, Associate Curator for Research