I thought we might enjoy getting a “close look” at Duncan Phillips, our founder, rather than just reading or hearing about him. I chose Portrait of Duncan (undated) by Marjorie Phillips, perhaps because who better than his wife and fellow artist would be able to convey this distinguished figure as a real person. She painted several portraits of him in different settings; but, in this one, he is seen in his later years, book in hand, relaxing at home and surrounded by two of his own paintings (at top) and one by Marjorie (at left). The meaning of his look and style . . . well, I leave all that up to the viewer. It’s worth at least a thousand words.
Joseph Holbach, Chief Registrar and Director of Special Initiatives
Despite being a pioneer in his collecting of modern art, Duncan Phillips did not extend his exploration of the non-traditional to women artists. They make up a small percentage of the works he and his wife, Marjorie, collected as well as the works added since. 2008 Postdoctoral Fellow Jennifer T. Criss attempted to identify why women are so underrepresented in the collection, but the question is difficult to answer. She concluded that Phillips valued the power of an individual work above all else, favoring a painting’s ability to produce an emotional reaction in the viewer above other qualities or associations. So while Duncan’s partnership with Marjorie or his personal reliance on women in his business life (to be explored in blog posts later this month) did not result in the rich collection of women artists that one might hope, there are some very strong and wonderful works by women at the Phillips. Below is a selection of works that were acquired by Duncan Phillips. Updated: Read a post on Phillips’s powerful secretary, Elmira Bier.