“Like it, Know it, Got it”

Photos: Sarah Osborne Bender

Duncan Phillips wrote in his books. Lists and marginalia abound in what remains of his library. In the course of cataloguing our copies of the American Art Annual, precursor to Who’s Who in American Art and the American Art Directory, I came across more of Phillips’s notes. Here in the first edition from 1899, he even created a key to his markings: “All marks indicate importance: Take notice – Know the picture – In our collection,” and subsequently put it to good use.  Having marked items he did not acquire until years later, such as Julian Alden Weir’s Roses, acquired in 1920, he must have relied on this early volume as a significant resource, going back and annotating the content. I found additional markings in the 1916 and 1922 editions.

Discovering Ralph Flint, Part II

A few days ago, I wrote about my first encounter with the undated drawing Metropolis by an artist of whom I had zero awareness, Ralph Flint. On a trip to The Phillips Collection library, I discovered through light research that Flint was a critic as well as an artist, but it wasn’t until Librarian Karen Schneider came to me with an exciting find that a portrait of Flint began to emerge.

In a thin file of ephemera related to Flint, Schneider found a letter sent directly by Flint to Duncan Phillips describing his progress on a review of the current art season for Phillips’s magazine, Art and Understanding, as well as some amusing personal anecdotes.


Letter from Ralph Flint to Duncan Phillips. Courtesy Phillips Collection Archives.

This letter, in addition to his essay in Art and Understanding, convincingly casts Flint as a writer who ran with Alfred Stieglitz’s circle and apparently was close and personable with Duncan Phillips. Continue reading “Discovering Ralph Flint, Part II” »

Discovering Ralph Flint, Part I

Ralph Flint, Metropolis, undated. Colored pencil on paper, 12 3/4 x 16 1/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1931.

Currently hung in a small group of New York-themed work on the second floor of the original House, Ralph Flint’s undated drawing Metropolis is nothing if not quietly eye-catching. The pencil marks that make up the abstracted cityscape are brusque and smudgy, lending the elevated view a feeling of out-of-reach frenzy. White highlights add depth to the relatively sparse work on paper, and the whole effect of Flint’s hand is understated and enchanting. As spellbound as I found myself when first viewing it, these visual qualities were not what prompted me to learn more about the piece. Rather, it was the unusual notation on wall text beside the drawing: “death date unknown.” Imprecise birth and death dates are probably not uncommon in exhibitions of ancient art; but as this is a modern piece, I was surprised and highly intrigued by the apparent gap in knowledge about Flint. Furthermore, word among staff was that Metropolis had never previously been on view at the Phillips. Installations Manager Bill Koberg wasn’t able to resolutely confirm this but did tell me that the work was unframed when he decided to put it up. As a fan of puzzles and mystery, I was immediately intent on finding out more. Continue reading “Discovering Ralph Flint, Part I” »