Seeing Baseball in Luncheon of the Boating Party

To celebrate our 90th anniversary The Phillips Collection held an all-day birthday party attended by 4,400 people. In honor of the event, my colleagues in the education department and I were asked to give half hour tours every hour on the special 90th anniversary installation of Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party. The museum’s masterpiece is on display in its original location in a gallery in the Phillips family home, which was, when Luncheon of the Boating Party debuted there on New Year’s Day 1924, known as the Main Gallery.

Post author Paul Ruther takes visitors through a time machine to 1924 in a gallery tour. Photo: Brooke Rosenblatt

I thought it would be fun to reacquaint visitors with the Boating Party by describing what it would be like to view it in its original location as a form of time travel. I described the room as it looked then, with couches, rugs, ashtrays—in case anyone wanted to smoke—and a skylight. I let them know that in 1924 Calvin Coolidge was president, gas cost an average of 21 cents per gallon, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue was first performed that year, and one of the year’s most popular movies was The Thief of Baghdad starring Douglas Fairbanks.

Perhaps the most interesting bit of trivia about the historic year of 1924, however, was that Duncan Phillips’s beloved Washington Senators baseball team won the World Series—remember his wife Marjorie’s most famous painting Night Baseball(1951) featured the hometown team. The Senators took game seven from the New York Giants winning four games to three, when future hall-of-famer Walter Johnson came in to pitch relief in a 12 inning game. I don’t know if Duncan Phillips ever made the connection, but the year Luncheon of the Boating Party first went on view was the first year in baseball history that a major league team from Washington ever won the World Series. The Senators have become the Washington Nationals, but we’re still waiting for the second World Series victory.

Was it a coincidence that the Senators won the World Series that year? I hardly think so.

Paul Ruther, Manager of Teacher Programs

Happy 125th Birthday to Duncan Phillips

Marjorie Phillips, Night Baseball, 1951. Oil on canvas, 24 1/4 x 36 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Gift of the artist 1951 or 1952.

In honor of Duncan Phillips’s birthday, let’s look at one of his favorite paintings by one of his favorite painters, Night Baseball by his wife, Marjorie Phillips.

Duncan and Marjorie loved baseball and the family had box seats for the Washington Senators behind the first-base dugout at Griffith Stadium. (This photo shows a view much like the one the family must have had.) In her book Duncan Phillips and his Collection, Marjorie humorously recounts a meeting with representatives of the Senators in which Duncan was offered part-ownership in the team. He appeared to seriously consider the offer and announced that he would be interested, would even sell the museum’s collection and purchase the whole team, on one condition: that he be made team manager and allowed to play second base. We are all grateful that his offer was not accepted.