Phillips Flashback: Neither Rain Nor Sleet…

As I worked on an ongoing project to organize Duncan Phillips’s correspondence, I was surprised to see many letters that were sent and received on subsequent days as well as on the same day. Phillips was a prolific letter writer who probably wrote at least ten letters a day, primarily to artists and art galleries.

Phillips’s correspondence with photographer, gallery dealer, and advocate for modern art Alfred Stieglitz began in 1926 and continued until 1946, the year of Stieglitz’s death.

On March 4, 1926, Stieglitz wrote a letter to Phillips in which he spoke about his wife Georgia O’Keeffe’s recent visit to The Phillips Collection. He stated, “She returned from Washington full of rare enthusiasm. She thoroughly enjoyed every moment with you and Mrs. Phillips and the pictures. She tells every one worthwhile what splendid work you are doing. Your Courbets and Daumier, the Renoir, El Greco she tells me about…She is painting and doing incredible work.”

Stieglitz to DP letter_side 1

Letter from Alfred Stieglitz to Duncan Phillips, March 4, 1926 (page 1)

Stieglitz to DP letter_side 2

Letter from Alfred Stieglitz to Duncan Phillips, March 4, 1926 (page 2)

Phillips replied on the same day: “It was a great pleasure to show our treasures to Georgia O’Keefe and to know her better. She is certainly a rare person and my wife and I were delighted to discover in her so sensitive and generous a responce to many different kinds of artistic expression. We were only sorry you were not with her but hope you can see the Collection very soon.”

DP to Stieglitz letter_03.04.1926

Letter from Duncan Phillips to Alfred Stieglitz, March 4, 926

According to the 1922 Annual Report of the Postmaster General, smaller cities averaged three to four mail deliveries per day, and larger cities received deliveries three to seven times a day. We can only dream of such an efficient mail service today.

Phillips Flashback: A Man of Many Lists

list of works_Duncan Phillips

From The Phillips Collection Archives

Museum founder Duncan Phillips loved making lists. He often created lists that ranked individual works of art. In a document dated 1919-1920, prior to the museum’s opening in 1921, he put Claude Monet in third place and American painter John Twachtman in first on a list titled “15 Best Purchases of 1918-19.”

On the back of an important letter to Thomas Bower (below) about the late art collector John Quinn, Phillips scrawled a list that included baby dresses, laundry, roast chicken, chicken aspic jelly, and ice cream.

shopping list_Duncan Phillips

From The Phillips Collection Archives

Women of Influence

postcard from archives

Postcard from Elmira Bier to Marjorie Phillips, undated. From The Phillips Collection archives

Women of Influence: Elmira Bier, Minnie Byers, and Marjorie Phillips is the current Reading Room exhibition just outside of the Phillips’s library, and examines the critical role that each woman played in the day to day activities of The Phillips Collection. Elmira Bier first started working at the Phillips in 1923, two years after the museum opened to the public, and retired in 1972. Bier was Duncan Phillips’s executive assistant. Fiercely protective of Phillips’s time, Bier took on many responsibilities, including serving as the first director of the music program, beginning in 1941. Despite her lack of formal training, Bier quickly established a widely acclaimed concert series that highlighted new performers and innovative music, which paralleled Duncan Phillips’s support of contemporary art.

Bier traveled extensively with Virginia McLaughlin, the sister of Jim McLaughlin, who was a curator at the Phillips. In addition to trips within the United States, they ventured to Norway and Ethiopia. Bier wrote of the latter, “This is really a wonderful experience. The people are gentle and many are handsome. Had lunch in home of young Ethiopian woman whose husband is in diplomatic corps. Nature dishes, some of them red hot! Friends assisting her alert and very feminist. They have women in parliament; we had no sense of color barrier. Saw the Emperor on Monday and heard him speak. Tiny but royal in bearing and very alert. He is particularly interested in education.”

group photo with Elmira

From left to right, seated in front row: C. Law Watkins, Elmira Bier, Marjorie Phillips, Duncan Phillips. Standing are Ira Moore [?] and on the right Charles Val Clear. Photo circa 1931.