Made in the USA: E Pluribus Unum

Charles Sheeler, Skyscrapers, 1922. Oil on canvas, 20 x 13 in. Acquired 1926. The Phillips Collection, Washington DC

Made in the USA, which opens tomorrow, shines a light on the strength of American artists in The Phillips Collection. 80% of our collection is by American artists. At the time of Duncan Phillips’s death in 1966, there were about 2,000 works in the collection; 1,400 were American. Many of them were by living artists and quite a few were at the beginning of their careers. The last time the museum devoted this much space to American art was in 1976, in honor of the country’s bicentennial. Through this survey of fifty years of Duncan Phillips’s collecting, we hope to illustrate how he defined the modern spirit of American Art.

One thought on “Made in the USA: E Pluribus Unum

  1. I have to say that, beyond their familiarity, the paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe really stood out when I saw them at the members preview. I was also interested to read that “My Shanty, Lake George” which Duncan Phillips purchased in 1926 was the first of her paintings to be acquired by a museum. Early influences also deserve credit.

    I knew that Alon Bement was a drawing teacher and mentor to Georgia O’Keeffe at the University of Virginia in Summer 1912, and I finally looked him up online. It turns out that he authored a book in 1921 republished in 2009 as “The Energetic Line in Figure Drawing” which looks like it is still inspirational in its fresh approach to figure drawing. Having studied art at U.Va. (Class of 1980) and participated in sketching at the Phillips Collection in 2000, I am ordering the book for myself and would suggest it to anyone interested in freehand drawing.

    The story of Georgia O’Keeffe on Wikipedia tells the importance of this fresh approach: “O’Keeffe abandoned the idea of pursuing a career as an artist in the fall of 1908, claiming that she could never distinguish herself as an artist within the mimetic tradition, which had formed the basis of her art training. She took a job in Chicago as a commercial artist. She did not paint for four years, and said that the smell of turpentine made her sick. She was inspired to paint again in 1912, when she attended a class at the University of Virginia Summer School, where she was introduced to the innovative ideas of Arthur Wesley Dow by Alon Bement. Dow encouraged artists to express themselves using line, color, and shading harmoniously.” O’Keeffe went on to study with Dow and also returned as a teaching assistant for Bement.

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