Meeting “Winter in the Jura”

Courbet_Winter in the Jura

Gustave Courbet, Winter in the Jura, c. 1875. Oil on canvas, 19 7/8 x 24 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC. Acquired 1958

During an impromptu stroll around the galleries on a snowy January day, I was drawn in by an intriguing image that I had not noticed before in a gallery that was originally the Phillips family home’s West Parlor. The scene before my eyes was not dissimilar from the one unfolding outside. Gustave Courbet’s Winter in the Jura (c. 1875) appeared just as breathtaking as the fresh snowfall outside. Rather than belonging to a particular school or movement, Courbet is perhaps better known for his lack of association with any one group. His work is neither strictly Romantic nor Neoclassical, and Courbet believed the popular style of History painting to be a waste of his time. Instead, Courbet aimed to “…in short…create living art,” which he has certainly done successfully in Winter in the Jura. The painting has a life-like quality that goes beyond any kind of hyperrealism. The special silence of a snow-covered morning has been captured perfectly.

In the work, a single figure trudges through the picture plane towards a bend in the road. Flecks of red draw the viewer’s eye to what remains of the foliage in the Jura Mountains. As a native of one of the snowiest cities in the US, I’ve developed a level of comfort that comes along with snow, which Courbet conveys perfectly through Winter in the Jura. Artists like Courbet—who refuse to be pigeon-holed into one category—are often the most valuable to our art education, but also to the development of art as a whole. There is certainly something exceptional about a painting which stirs something familiar in a first-time viewer. The artist with this special capability must possess the “power of conception” and “sacred knowing” that Courbet so often mentioned in letters to friends. In this way, Courbet made himself truly free from the restraints of institutions as he always wished to, holding power to “…address the people directly” in self-portraits and scenes of snowy mornings.

Elizabeth Federici, Marketing & Communications Intern

The Artist Sees Differently: Darci Vanderhoff

Darci Vanderhoff, Chief Information Officer, on the mic

Darci Vanderhoff, Chief Information Officer, on the mic! Photo: Joshua Navarro

DARCI VANDERHOFF, Chief Information Officer

How did you learn about the Phillips?

I originally came to Phillips exhibitions as an art enthusiast. One of my favorite shows was Impressionists in Winter in 1998. I didn’t even mind the long lines (once I got inside). Several years later, I came to sell the Phillips on the idea of online ticketing. Then, in 2001, I applied for the IT Director position when it became available at the museum.

You formerly worked as a writer, you’re a musician in a band. Do you feel you are inspired by the Phillips art? 

I worked at the editorial desk of the Washington office of the Wall Street Journal for a number of years, and then left to freelance in both writing and photography. I was published locally as well as in Dallas, Detroit, and other cities. I did research for Judy Woodruff’s book This is Judy Woodruff at the White HouseRadcliffe College’s Arthur Schlesinger Library (a women’s archive) holds a collection of my articles and photographs. I eventually became a music critic, and at the suggestion of musician friends, I decided to attend music school myself. It was a radical idea to me, so I took to it immediately. After getting my feet wet in a local music school for a year, I enrolled at Berklee College of Music in the mid-1980s with a scholarship.

I am a musician. I primarily sing but also write. My degree is in songwriting. I am one of thirteen in the local band Cleve Francis and Friends. We routinely play at The Birchmere in Alexandra, Virginia, and at local benefits. We released a CD, Storytime: Live at the Birchmere, in 2009. In addition to singing, I am the “administrator” of the group: setting rehearsal schedules, digitally recording rehearsals, distributing recordings, managing databases, etc., which is where my digital skill-set comes in handy. I am the only woman in the group. Go figure. I recently joined a smaller group doing more instrumental music across a wide spectrum of genres. Instrumentation includes keyboards, guitar, upright bass, and vocals (three of us sing). I’m having fun doing lead vocals again.

Yes, I am inspired by the art at the Phillips, and even more by the artists who work here. Most of my coworkers are brilliantly creative people.

Do you listen to anything as you do your artwork?

My “artwork” is primarily music. I listen to a lot of music during my work commute, but I also use that time to prep for shows. The rehearsing could be considered a driving distraction, I guess, but it’s been a part of my commute for some time, so I think I balance the two well. Don’t tell anyone.

Who’s your favorite artist in the collection?

I am very fond of Claude Monet, Georgia O’Keeffe, Edward Hopper, Jacob Lawrence, Paul Dougherty, Childe Hassam, Gustave Courbet, and our growing photography collections.                   

Do you collect other artwork – or anything?

I collect a few things:  I have a striped beach rock collection, mostly from Plum Island in Massachusetts where I strolled often while going to school. I have a Washington Nationals bobble-head collection that is in need of attention. I also collect art. One of my favorite acquisitions was purchased from one of the Phillips museum assistants in a staff show: a colorful photograph of multiple faucet handles from an abandoned steel mill in Pittsburgh. Clearly, I trend toward water themes.

 And do you have a favorite Marjorie Phillips painting?

I like Nuns on the Roof, too.

Hear Darci’s song, “Every Little Bit”

-Rolf Rykken


Congenial Spirits: Intercontinental

West Parlor

John Sloan's The Wake of the Ferry II (left) and Gustave Courbet's Rocks at Mouthier (right) in the West Parlor. (Photo by Amy Wike)

Duncan Phillips saw American modern artists as equal to their European counterparts and often installed their works side by side. The house parlors are currently hung in this spirit, with American painter John Sloan’s The Wake of the Ferry II (1907)  alongside  French artist Gustave Courbet’s Rocks at Mouthier (c. 1855).