Discovering Ralph Flint, Part II

A few days ago, I wrote about my first encounter with the undated drawing Metropolis by an artist of whom I had zero awareness, Ralph Flint. On a trip to The Phillips Collection library, I discovered through light research that Flint was a critic as well as an artist, but it wasn’t until Librarian Karen Schneider came to me with an exciting find that a portrait of Flint began to emerge.

In a thin file of ephemera related to Flint, Schneider found a letter sent directly by Flint to Duncan Phillips describing his progress on a review of the current art season for Phillips’s magazine, Art and Understanding, as well as some amusing personal anecdotes.


Letter from Ralph Flint to Duncan Phillips. Courtesy Phillips Collection Archives.

This letter, in addition to his essay in Art and Understanding, convincingly casts Flint as a writer who ran with Alfred Stieglitz’s circle and apparently was close and personable with Duncan Phillips. Continue reading “Discovering Ralph Flint, Part II” »

Discovering Ralph Flint, Part I

Ralph Flint, Metropolis, undated. Colored pencil on paper, 12 3/4 x 16 1/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1931.

Currently hung in a small group of New York-themed work on the second floor of the original House, Ralph Flint’s undated drawing Metropolis is nothing if not quietly eye-catching. The pencil marks that make up the abstracted cityscape are brusque and smudgy, lending the elevated view a feeling of out-of-reach frenzy. White highlights add depth to the relatively sparse work on paper, and the whole effect of Flint’s hand is understated and enchanting. As spellbound as I found myself when first viewing it, these visual qualities were not what prompted me to learn more about the piece. Rather, it was the unusual notation on wall text beside the drawing: “death date unknown.” Imprecise birth and death dates are probably not uncommon in exhibitions of ancient art; but as this is a modern piece, I was surprised and highly intrigued by the apparent gap in knowledge about Flint. Furthermore, word among staff was that Metropolis had never previously been on view at the Phillips. Installations Manager Bill Koberg wasn’t able to resolutely confirm this but did tell me that the work was unframed when he decided to put it up. As a fan of puzzles and mystery, I was immediately intent on finding out more. Continue reading “Discovering Ralph Flint, Part I” »

New York State of Mind

Photo: Piper Grosswendt

A fresh suite of artworks quietly debuted earlier this month in a small gallery, on the second floor of the House. As hallmark pieces of the museum’s American art collection shipped off to Tokyo for To See as Artists See: American Art from The Phillips Collection, and with the 10th anniversary of 9/11 in mind, Installations Manager Bill Koberg thought to fill the space with a few choice pieces of New York abstraction from the 1930s-50s.

Gandy Brodie’s undated painting Fragment of a City (1957) anchors the East side of the room, opposite Loren MacIver’s New York (1952). A subtler MacIver, The Window Shade (1948) and Berenice Abbott’s modern consideration of the city as landscape Canyon: Broadway and Exchange Place (1936) hang on the North wall across from Aaron Siskind’s photograph New York 6 (1951) and Ralph Flint’s undated colored pencil drawing Metropolis (undated), acquired by the Collection in 1931. The Flint work brings with it some mystery — unframed prior to its recent hanging, Koberg is uncertain if it’s ever graced the walls of the Phillips. Continue reading “New York State of Mind” »