Behind the Blue: Ambroise Vollard and Pío Baroja

behind the blue_ambroise baroja

Images, left to right: Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Ambroise Vollard, 1910. Pushkin Museum of Fine Art, Moscow, Russia; Infrared of Pablo Picasso’s The Blue Room (1901). The Phillips Collection, copyright 2008; Pío Baroja, photographed by Prieto.

After discovering a hidden painting underneath the Phillips’s The Blue Room (1901) by Pablo Picasso, conservators and curators are still researching the identity of the person in the portrait. You’ve been calling, e-mailing, tweeting, and posting your ideas about who the mystery man might be. We’re sharing information on the most popular suggestions here on the blog. Today, we focus on Ambroise Vollard and Pío Baroja.

One of the most frequent suggestions continues to be Ambroise Vollard (1866–1939), a foremost European art dealer at the turn of the century. Known for his keen eye in recognizing rising stars, he amassed an impressive list of artistic connections, including Paul  Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Henri Matisse, and Vincent van Gogh. Vollard boasted the first one-man exhibition of Picasso’s work, and in fact the artist did create a portrait or two of his dealer during his lifetime. However, this was not a terribly uncommon practice. One Phillips patron wrote in noting that the small lips, body language and type, as well as outfit seem very similar to other portraits of Vollard.

Another name that has come up several times is Pío Baroja (1872–1956). Baroja was a writer best known for his seminal work The Tree of Knowledge. While his novels never reached the height of popularity, likely due to his penchant for pessimism, he is still considered one of the leading Spanish novelists of the period. Baroja was a member of the Generation of ’98, a group that lead the way in avant-garde change in Spain and which paved the way for artists like Picasso. A Phillips follower tweeted that Picasso drew him for Arte Joven while in Madrid.

We want to hear your thoughts! Send us your suggestions for who the mystery man may be with #BlueRoom or in the comments below We’ll collect the most popular (and some of our favorites) on the blog over the next week.

One Collection to Another: Exploring The Kreeger Museum

Compilation of images from paintings and sculpture from the Kreeger Museum's collection

Sculptures, paintings, architecture, and members of the Phillips’s communications staff at The Kreeger Museum. Photos: Amy Wike

To take advantage of the dwindling sunny days and for a little inspiration, the Phillips communications and marketing department recently took a field trip to the nearby Kreeger Museum. It was a treat to see some of the stars from our own collection—Braque, BonnardMonet, and Picasso, to name a few—in a new light, and I could spend days in the Dan Steinhilber: Marlin Underground exhibition (on view through Dec. 29, 2012). The image at lower left in the collage above is just a corner of the gargantuan inflatable sculpture Steinhilber has created for visitors to run around in.

Of particular note was this incredible watercolor by Piet Mondrian. After a lifetime of associating the name “Mondrian” with flat, grid paintings in primary colors, I had to do a triple-take of the artist name.

Located on Foxhall Road, the Kreeger is just down the street from the house Duncan and Marjorie Phillips built in 1929, affectionately named “Dunmarlin” after Duncan (father), Marjorie (mother), and Laughlin (son). The building no longer stands, but it housed the family after their residence at 21st and Q Streets was fully converted to a museum.

Amy Wike, Publicity and Marketing Coordinator


The International Art and Language Soiree hosted at the Phillips on Thursday, August 16 in collaboration with the International Club of DC provided an incredible atmosphere of cultural infusion. The Tryst at the Phillips café was the perfect meeting place for all who attended, including experienced foreign language speakers and beginners looking to try something new. The native speakers and conversation facilitators led ongoing discussions about their cultures and the variety of works featured at the Phillips produced by artists of their respective cultural backgrounds. For example, the Russian patrons discussed Chagall and Rothko, the Spanish patrons discussed Picasso and Goya, and the French patrons discussed Renoir and Cézanne.

The mood was light and fun, comfortable and relaxed, making it easy to approach any language table and give it a try. Much to my surprise, that is exactly what many of the attendees did. I watched in awe as individuals floated between the Russian table and the German table, the Spanish table and the Italian table. There was minimal emphasis on proficiency in a single language and more emphasis on a friendly interaction with something new. I felt my confidence building as I observed the excitement of all the attendees in this culturally charged environment. Maybe this week I’ll attempt to recall some Spanish from my high school days, or just sit in on the French discussion to assess how much of it I can understand with my minimal background in the romance languages. Either way, the art and language soiree at The Phillips Collection provides an irresistibly welcoming vibe that encourages everyone to join the fun.

To get a feel for how these language and art soirees unfold, check out this video, courtesy of the International Club of DC, which was recorded the night I attended.

Laura McNeil, Graduate Intern for Programs and Lectures