Being An Artist at The Phillips Collection

Matisse_studio quai

Henri Matisse, Studio, Quai Saint-Michel, 1916. Oil on canvas, 58 1/4 x 46 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Acquired 1940.

What is it like to be an artist working at The Phillips Collection? I tackle this question not because I claim to be an artist—far from it, in fact; I see myself more as a cultural sociologist than an artist—but because over the last month or so of working here, I have been inspired to create more than ever before. More to the point, over the next few weeks, the Phillips is exhibiting works by artists employed at the museum and I wanted to take a moment to think about how we are all affected by working amongst great art.

It is a traditionally held dictate that visitors to a museum shall passively engage with the art. Walk up to it silently, contemplate subject and color for a moment, then move on to the next piece. Here at the Phillips, however, the environment is such that one cannot help but become intimately attached to the works hanging on the walls. They become old friends, and we move from passive engagement to something more ambiguous and often awkwardly articulated. The works of art become inspiration. They pop up in dreams and motifs in our own work. Moreover, most of the museum guards have an artistic bent which allows for conversation about and active engagement with the art, and who among us does not feel a tinge of joy when we come across the many troops of school children discussing pieces and creating their own art in response? Personally, I have become obsessed with Henri Matisse’s Studio, Quai Saint-Michel. It is currently on view on the second floor of the original Phillips house in a small gallery just past Renoir’s Luncheon of the Booting Party. The painting’s size in this room makes it imposing and all consuming. It is as if you are transported into that studio space with its soft light. It has sparked in my work a new interest in color and pattern, as well as an impulse to incorporate other art forms such as music into my otherwise purely visual creations.

It is impossible to remain passive in a museum like the Phillips. You are constantly confronting works in a personal way and they in turn intimately confront you. Being an artist working here is like gaining the ability of osmosis as the creative urge seeps into your veins. All I can say is, after a day’s work within this museum, I cannot wait to get back to my canvas and paints.

Dominique Lopes, Director’s Office Intern



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

Mutts of the Masters

Breakup of the Boating Party from Michael Patrick’s book Mutts of the Masters

When some friends gave me the 1996 book Mutts of the Masters by Michael Patrick, I thought it was just an overview of famous paintings that include dogs, such as the Phillips’s masterpiece by Renoir, Luncheon of the Boating Party. But as I flipped through the pages, the truth was exposed–Renoir’s real painting features another, much bigger dog with the title Breakup of the Boat Party.



Pas De Deux from Michael Patrick’s from Mutts of the Masters

Okay, the book is a satire (and a very amusing one at that) of historical art treasures overrun by dogs (and the occasional cat). Another Phillips masterpiece, Edgar Degas’s Dancers at the Barre, is also featured, only in this version titled Pas De Deuxa froofy French poodle dances (or otherwise conducts her business) in the lower right corner.