Honoring Charles Moffett

Charles Moffett and Laughlin Phillips

(Left) Charles Moffett and (right) Laughlin Phillips. Photo courtesy of The Phillips Collection

The Phillips Collection and the greater art community suffered an enormous loss with the passing of former Phillips Collection Director Charles Moffett. He was a beloved leader, curator, and friend.

Charlie was Director of the Phillips from 1992–1998, bringing with him years of curatorial experience from his time at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Gallery of Art, and the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco.

In 1996, The Phillips Collection celebrated its 75th anniversary. In honor of that banner year, Charlie worked with the staff to initiate a major exhibition, Impressionists on the Seine: A Celebration of Renoir’s “Luncheon of the Boating Party.” The exhibition was by far the institution’s most ambitious to date, organized around Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s iconic painting. The exhibition proved to be the most successful show to date in the history of the museum, with nearly 200,000 visitors over the course of its five month run. Due to its enormous popularity, the show was extended for a two week period, and all attendance records for a single exhibition at the museum were shattered.

A specialist in late-19th-century French painting, Charlie went on to organize the successful, nationally touring Impressionists in Winter: Effets de Neige, on view at the Phillips in 1998, and Impressionist Still Life, co-organized with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, held at the Phillips in 2001–2002.

In honor of Charlie Moffett’s memory and many contributions, The Phillips Collection hosted Dr. Richard Brettell, one of the world’s foremost authorities on Impressionism and 1830–1930 French painting and friend of Charlie, for a lecture titled All Together in One Room: The Impressionist Exhibition of 1882, on March 17, 2016. Our staff remembers Charlie as a wonderful colleague, who connected deeply with the collection. His detail-oriented perfectionism and inclination toward lofty institutional goals contributed to the pioneering mindset that the Phillips and its staff so value today.

See Dr. Richard Brettell’s lecture in full in this video:

Monet’s Inverted Landscape

Monet_the water-lily pond

Claude Monet, Water Lily Pond, 1919. Oil on canvas, 39 3/8 x 78 7/8 in. Paul G. Allen Family Collection

Visitors have enjoyed the “wall of Monet” in Seeing Nature: Landscape Masterworks from the Paul G. Allen Collection, on which three stunning works by the artist are displayed side by side. In 1883, Claude Monet moved to the village of Giverny, France, and set out to convert his home into a source of inspiration for his art. A passionate gardener, he transformed his property into an idealized landscape that expressed his interests in Eastern culture and ideals. Here, as in many of his later works, Monet gives equal attention to the trees, plants, sky, and water, creating an abstract amalgamation of tone and shadow. He also inverts the right-side-up orientation of the traditional landscape: the viewer looks down into the sky, which is reflected in water that acts as a mirror.

Monet in the Morning

Monet_Val-Saint-Nicolas

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

I’ve always been a day dreamer, often getting lost in my thoughts as I fail to finish my homework. In my mind appears landscape after landscape, ranging from my home country, France, to vistas from remote places around the globe. Although my window allows me to see outside, I long to see a different view than the office building across the street. For this reason, if I could choose one painting from the Phillips to hang in my bedroom, it would be Claude Monet’s Val-Saint-Nicolas, near Dieppe (Morning) (1897). The cliff side in this work can be seen as an allegory for my longing to travel: showing me the horizon of possible destinations from my bed or desk. On rainy or foggy days, its palette brightens my room; the soft yet bright colors of the painting reflect around my walls on sunny days. Val-Saint-Nicolas serves as a window to a parallel universe where I can let my mind wander as the cliff and rocks come to life, adorned with multicolored flowers. The gentle brushstrokes produce a soporiferous effect on me and sleep comes easily.

Of all the paintings in the Phillips, the only one I would want hanging in my bedroom is this one, which produces the utmost calm in me, soothes me, and allows me to be in connection with my senses.

Olivia Bensimon, Marketing & Communications Intern