Phillips Petting Zoo: Giorgio de Chirico

Giorgio de Chirico, Horses, c.1928. Oil on canvas, 19 3/4 x 25 5/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC. Acquired 1929. © 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/SIAE, Rome. Reproduction, including downloading of Giorgio de Chirico works is prohibited by copyright laws and international conventions without the express written permission of Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

I’ve worked at the Phillips for almost six years and until recently, I hadn’t seen this curious painting by Giorgio de Chirico. When I think of de Chirico, images of his desolate cityscapes come to mind; apparently they’ve even been memorialized in a video game. But what about these proud, dreamy horses with their flowing tails and cascading manes? And why are they posing on the beach with classical ruins? Continue reading “Phillips Petting Zoo: Giorgio de Chirico” »

Phillips Petting Zoo: Elizabeth Murray

Elizabeth Murray, The Sun and the Moon, 2004-2005. Oil on panel mounted on wood; overall: 117 in x 107 1/2 in; 297.18 cm x 273.05 cm. Gift of Agnes Gund and Daniel Shapiro and Gifford and Joann Phillips, 2006. © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Elizabeth Murray’s The Sun and the Moon presents such powerful explosion of colors, lines, forms, and energy that I must have looked at it ten times before I noticed the orange cat in the lower-right. Once I saw him, however, he seemed right at home in a painting I read as balancing opposing forces: illness/health, light/dark, music/cacophony, the sun/the moon. He’s a cartoony looking cat, and I’ve often wondered is he meowing in pain or play?

Lucky for me, my colleague Sarah knows Cabell Tomlinson, who worked for Murray while she painted The Sun and the Moon. Tomlinson told me that the cat was Murray’s tabby Tiger, who she remembers as a sweet old cat who was “kinda creaky” with a “pitiful” meow.  While Murray was working on The Sun and the Moon she put Tiger to sleep, and the next week, she memorialized him in the painting–meow and all. Tiger wasn’t Murray’s only pet; she also owned a Burmese mountain dog named Otis and another cat named Armstrong. In fact, you can see all three pets in Murray’s Art:21 video as she sits and reads the paper (see chapter 10 of the full-length video).

A number of other animals appear in Murray’s body of work, including snakes, worms, and dogs. I’ve even read that she used empty Nutro cat food cans to mix and thin paints.

If you’re interested in more animals in the collection, check out my first Petting Zoo post on Duncan and Marjorie Phillips and their poodles.

Phillips Petting Zoo: Duncan and Marjorie Phillips

Phillips, Marjorie, Duncan Phillips with the Dogs C'est Tout, Ami and Babette, 1975, Oil on canvas; 40 x 32 in.; 101.6 x 81.28 cm.. Gift of the artist, 1984.

Recently, I began to think about the numerous connections between pets and artwork in The Phillips Collection, and was surprised by the richness of this topic. So much so, I’m writing a series exploring the intersection of pets with the collection. In honor of the museum’s 90th, this post looks at Duncan and Marjorie Phillips.

Marjorie was a professional artist and painted her husband on multiple occasions. I think her portrait, Duncan Phillips with the Dogs C’est Tout, Ami and Babette (1975), is my favorite, mostly because it illustrates the couple’s enduring love for dogs. During their lifetimes, Duncan and Marjorie kept many dogs—first an airedale, later a spaniel named Jeff, schnauzers called Pep and Pep II, and of course the standard poodles depicted in Marjorie’s painting with Duncan. C’est Tout, Ami, and Babette were especially important to the couple: all three lived 17 years, and the Phillipses treated them like members of the family. In fact, when French photographer Henri Cartier Bresson took a family portrait, Duncan insisted that the dogs be included.

So, it’s not surprising to me that Marjorie incorporated the poodles in Duncan Phillips with the Dogs C’est Tout, Ami and Babette. In the lower right looking at us is Babette (a French diminutive for Barbara); she was Duncan’s favorite. On the left side of the painting is C’est Tout (French for “that’s all”); he loved playing fetch with Duncan. And in the center under the table is Ami (French for “friend”); he was Marjorie’s favorite.