Museums and the National Spirit: “The Arts in War Time”

This painting held special meaning for Duncan Phillips who recognized in it a passionate spirit for freedom. Honoré Daumier, The Uprising (L'Emeute), 1848 or later. Oil on canvas, 34 1/2 x 44 1/2 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1925.

This post is the third in a series in honor of Blue Star Museums Initiative. See the previous installments here: part one and two.

On May 19, 1942, months after the United States entered World War II, Duncan Phillips gave a powerful talk –“The Arts in War Time”– to a meeting of the American Association of Museums gathered in Williamsburg, Virgina. Here, he made a clear case for the importance of art for a world in conflict:

Art can serve the cause of victory. It can do a very considerable part in total mobilization. Those of us who create works of art and those of us who, in Galleries, protect, exhibit and interpret them in their significant relations, can dedicate ourselves and our special knowledge and skills to the morale both of the fighting forces and of the home front. After we have done all we can in our Museums to safeguard our treasures from fires and explosions, there should remain on view a succession of instructive, inspiring, timely and pleasurable exhibitions with special welcome for soldiers, sailors and tired war workers from the offices.

The artists of America are enlisting for the Army and Navy, some are in training for camouflage, contributing their paintings for camp chapels and recreation rooms, for war relief or to aid in Civilian Defense. In camps they are being encouraged and provided with materials to carry on their crafts. Many of them have been reporting factually and with authority, on our war industries, on the tremendous task of converting our country into Democracy’s mightiest arsenal.

The full text of the speech can be found in the Phillips Collection Archives where  Duncan Phillips’s existing published and unpublished writings reside.

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