A Gallery of Color

The Phillips is home to radiant works by the Washington Color School. Don’t miss the gallery featuring brilliant paintings by Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, Gene Davis, and Thomas Downing, artist who frequented the museum and were inspired by the American Modernist and French Impressionist works in the galleries. Leo Villareal’s pulsating Scramble offers a contemporary twist to the Color Field canvases.

Washington Color School gallery

Left to right: Grid 31 (1970) by Thomas Downing, April (1960) by Kenneth Noland, Seal (1959) by Morris Louis, Cycle (1960) by Kenneth Noland, Number 182 (1961) by Morris Louis, and Scramble (2011) by Leo Villareal

O’Keeffe and Friends

Okeeffe jack in pulpit series_IV and VI

(left) Georgia O’Keeffe, Jack-in-the-Pulpit No. IV, 1930. Oil on canvas, 40 x 30 in. The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Alfred Stieglitz Collection, bequest of Georgia O’Keeffe 1987.58.3 (right) Georgia O’Keeffe, Jack-in-the-Pulpit No. VI, 1930. Oil on canvas, 36 x 18 in. The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Alfred Stieglitz Collection, bequest of Georgia O’Keeffe 1987.58.5

While the National Gallery of Art‘s East Building galleries are closed for renovation, the Phillips is the (ecstatic!) temporary home to two works from Georgia O’Keeffe‘s Jack-in-the-Pulpit series. The series, a total of six canvases, was inspired by O’Keeffe’s close observations of the wildflower in the woods surrounding photographer Alfred Stieglitz’s family home in Lake George, New York. Looking at the images above without this information, what would you have thought these were paintings of? Now imagine encountering just the one on the right, Jack-in-the-Pulpit No. VI. Would you have guessed it was inspired by flora?

The loaned paintings will be on display starting this Thursday alongside other works by O’Keeffe from the Phillips’s own collection, as well as pieces from other members of the Stieglitz Circle including Arthur Dove, John Marin, Marsden Hartley, and Alvin Langdon Coburn.

A Closer Look at Color

Color Studio Matisse

Henri Matisse, Interior with Egyptian Curtain, 1948. Oil on canvas, 45 3/4 x 35 1/8 in. Acquired 1950. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC (Right) Raoul Dufy, The Opera, Paris, early 1930s. Gouache on paper, 19 3/4 x 25 1/4 in. Acquired 1939. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC

Last Wednesday, I got the chance to attend a Spotlight Talk on Henri Matisse’s Studio, Quai Saint Michel, where we discussed the artist’s characteristic use of Fauvist color to define space. At first these color choices coupled with the skewed perspective can feel a bit aggressive (or in the words of a young Duncan Phillips, “unworthy of the mere ignorance of children and savages”), but after spending some time viewing the painting in person, I started to recognize the frenetic colors for the way they represent the experience of inhabiting the space; the light purple shadow cast by the curtain, vibrant red fabric that frames the reclining model, and rhythmic teal highlights on the walls throughout the room are in essence abstract gestures, but somehow they come together to create a vivid environment.

As I browsed the collection afterwards, I found myself recognizing the way other artists structure their color choices to manipulate the viewers’ perception of subject and space; Georgia O’Keeffe’s somber My Shanty, Lake George, Edouard Vuillard’s intimately composed Woman Sweeping, and Raoul Dufy’s intricate The Opera, Paris. Even works that are purely abstract seem relevant; Piet Mondrian’s Painting No. 9 uses primary color to visually dissect our three-dimensional world, while Mark Rothko’s Green and Maroon uses chromatic fields to envelop the viewer in atmospheric color.

Elaine Budzinski, Marketing Intern