In Case of Emergency . . .

One of about 40 paintings Duncan Phillips considered to be "the best" that were sent to William Rockhill Nelson Art Gallery in Kansas City, Missouri. Eugène-Louis Boudin, Beach at Trouville, 1863. Oil on wood panel, 7 1/4 x 13 3/4 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1923.

A few months back, many art lovers were interested to read a Washington Post profile on Andrew Robison, National Gallery of Art curator of prints, watercolors, drawings, and rare illustrated books, and his “unique” system of identifying works in his collections that are of greatest value in the event of emergency evacuation. Though NGA director Rusty Powell explains that this is not the museum’s primary security program for its 116,000 items, Robison’s method was not dissimilar to one used by our founder in the 1940s. Duncan Phillips, no stranger to ranking his collection, put his evaluative skills to work to protect his collection in a time of national threat.

From January 1942 until September 1944, Phillips sent 33 works from his collection on the road to the Colorado Springs Fine Art Center to be displayed and stored in safety as Washington, D.C., waited out the possibility of German air attacks during World War II. Around 40 pieces from the collection were also sent to what is now the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City for the same purpose. The National Gallery of Art took similar action during this time, sending some of their paintings and sculptures to Biltmore House in western North Carolina.

Fall for Degas

A stunning loan to the Phillips's upcoming Degas's Dancers exhibition. Edgar Degas, The Dance Class, c. 1873. Oil on canvas, 18 3/4 x 24 1/2 in. Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., William A. Clark Collection.

A new season for the “painter of dancers” is beginning. Tomorrow, London’s Royal Academy of Arts opens Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement, positioning Degas’s images of dancers in the context of photography and early film. The exhibition is on view through December 11, 2011. Early reviews indicate that, while Degas is already well known and well loved, his work continues to offer much to discover. In the Financial Times, Jackie Wullschlager writes that the Royal Academy exhibition, “triumphantly proves how much we can still glean from a deep, precisely focused exploration of the most familiar masters.”

On October 1, our own exhibition opens, exploring Degas’s process in representing ballerinas from the 1870s to 1900. His devotion and commitment to the subject and his deep understanding of the hard work underlying the dancer’s art led him to repeat and revise his depictions of dancers obsessively. Degas’s Dancers at the Barre: Point and Counterpoint takes lessons learned from the conservation of a Phillips treasure as its starting point.

You can also discover another perspective on the artist in the Museum of Fine Arts Boston’s Degas and the Nude, which includes The Phillips Collection’s After the Bath (c. 1895), below. Across the Atlantic, Rembrandt & Degas, which opened this summer at Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, remains on view through October 23.

If you’re not sure you can make it to these exhibitions (or they leave you wanting more), visit Degas’s work in permanent collections around the world. Here in the DC region, opportunities abound at the Baltimore Museum of ArtCorcoran Gallery of Art, Dumbarton Oaks, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, The Kreeger Museum, National Gallery of Art, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, The Walters Art Museum, and (of course) here at the Phillips.

Edgar Degas, After the Bath, circa 1895. Pastel on paper, 30 1/2 x 33 1/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1949.