Women’s History Month: “Marjorie Sketches”

Phillips_Little Bouquet

Marjorie Phillips, Little Bouquet, 1934. Oil on canvas, 15 1/2 x 14 1/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Acquired c. 1941

As Women’s History Month comes to a close, it’s the perfect time to reflect on some of the powerful in the art world throughout history. Often overlooked is one such woman, Marjorie Phillips, who served many roles throughout her marriage to Duncan Phillips: wife, mother, hostess, adviser, museum director, and even artist. Despite the lack of support women received for practicing art at the time that Marjorie began painting, she maintained the hobby until the end of her life. Describing how those around her reacted to her pastime, she remembers Duncan’s mother saying “‘Marjorie sketches.’ That sounded better to her than ‘Marjorie is a painter.’”

But Marjorie was a painter, and a prolific one at that. Throughout the second half of the 20th century, her paintings were exhibited in museums all over the country. Perhaps one of the most widely exhibited is Little Bouquet (1934), featuring a couple of Marjorie’s favorite things: flowers and paint. As her son Laughlin described her artistic style in 1985, “her painting always reflected a conscious decision,” an ironic statement given the apparent spontaneity in Marjorie’s subject matter. Like Little Bouquet, all of her paintings offer a glimpse into her personal life. This piece serves as an inside look at the artist’s working surface as if left mid-session. Yet each individual application of color is extremely deliberate upon close inspection. In a review of her works exhibited at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in 1955, a reporter wrote “without trying for the iridescent chromatic effects of the French painters, she gives an equal impression of color through the simplest of means.” Simple indeed, yet extremely poignant.

Marjorie’s works are exhibited throughout the collection among leading impressionists like Cézanne, Bonnard, and Monet. Her impressionist style shines among them, making her truly a leading lady among her contemporaries.

Annie Dolan, Marketing and Communications Intern

Women’s History Month: Hear Her Roar

Mitchell_August Rue Duguerre

Joan Mitchell, August, Rue Daguerre, 1957. Oil on canvas, 82 x 69 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Acquired 1958; © Estate of Joan Mitchell

March may be coming to an end, but we are surely not ready to finish celebrating Women’s History Month just yet. Women artists have helped to propel contemporary art into the rich field it is today, so I thought it only right to dedicate this post to one of the female artists I find most fascinating from the Phillips’s permanent collection—Joan Mitchell (1925-1992).

Joan Mitchell, born in Chicago, was an essential member of the American Abstract Expressionist movement and an all around fierce character. Sitting pretty in the galleries is Joan Mitchell’s August, Rue Daguerre (1957), an energetic oil on canvas painting, which was inspired by a bustling Paris street. This work, with its rather violent brush strokes and rich colors, is representative of Joan’s work as she was inspired by lively friends (fellow artists de Kooning and Kline) and the cities she traveled between most, New York City and Paris. Having lived in a number of locations, Joan’s abstract paintings expressed her environment and her reaction to them.

I adore how in looking at this painting, one can begin to visualize what Joan was seeing both in her surroundings and how they affected her own psyche. The various shades of brown and black on the canvas could be illustrative of the statuesque Parisian architecture, but also might signify how Joan feels content and rooted in Paris. Perhaps the interspersed strokes of bright, yet subdued reds and blues express the unpredictable French citizens Joan passes daily along the winding streets. I think the magic of this emotive work and of abstract art as a whole is that it’s always up for interpretation.

August, Rue Daguerre (1957) is certainly one of my favorite paintings in the Phillips’s collection. I appreciate how Joan Mitchell was brave enough to express herself through abstract art, knowing critics and the public may never fully understand her vision… and personally, I think being brave is what being a woman is all about.

Aysia Woods, Marketing Intern

Examining Art and Activism

Anne Monahan will be giving a lecture about Faith Ringgold’s mural Die at The Phillips Collection Center for the Study of Modern Art on Thursday, September 11, at 6:30 pm.

Anne Monahan and Faith Ringgold's Die

(Left) Anne Monahan, 2014-15 Postdoctoral Fellow (Right) Faith Ringgold, Die, oil on canvas, 72 x 144 in. © Faith Ringgold

I first became interested in Faith Ringgold’s strategic marriage of art and activism in the 1960s—then an under-examined aspect of her project—while working on my dissertation. Just a couple of years ago, I was prompted to see her ambitious painting Die of 1967 with fresh eyes when a friend asked if it represented stages in a sequential narrative. That question prompted me to think more deeply about the painting’s formal and conceptual ambiguities and how they operated in the political, racial, and aesthetic discourses of its charged moment. As a result, Die and its reception figure in my book Radical/Chic: Race, Politics, and the Legacy of Social Realism in Art of the 1960s as a key example of the shifting dynamics by which racial politics influenced a politics of style.

—Anne Monahan, 2014-15 Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for the Study of Modern Art / The George Washington University