Celebrating National Poetry Month at the Phillips Collection: Part I

Harold Weston, John Dos Passos Reading, 1933. Oil on canvas. 22.125 x 16 in. The Phillips Collection

April is National Poetry Month, and  it gives all of us at The Phillips Collection an opportunity to recognize how this vital art form often intertwines with the visual arts. In very much the same way a great painting can reach into our hearts and communicate so much emotion in the span of just a few brushstrokes, a poem has the same rare ability to capture the very essence of the human condition in but a phrase. This month, I will share a series of posts that highlight a connection between the two art forms.

Duncan Phillips had an extensive collection of poetry books, which ranged from W.H. Auden to Marsden Hartley to Edna St. Vincent Millay, and was known to have literary figures represented in some of the artworks he acquired. Harold Weston’s sensitive portrait of John Dos Passos is a fine example of such a crossing.

The tradition continues today at The Phillips Collection in recent exhibitions and wonderful programs with guest speakers, many of whom are distinguished poets who draw on the artwork here for parallels and inspiration. Last year we had a beautiful collection of Alvin Langdon Coburn’s photographs on display, among which he captured a stunning portrait of W.B. Yeats. In 2008, during the exhibition Degas to Diebenkorn: The Phillips Collects, the public had the privilege to see Henri Cartier-Bresson’s 1947 portrait of William Faulkner. As evidenced, many traces of the literary world abound here at the museum.

Art and poetry meet more often than we may realize, perhaps. Can you name a few examples? Over the course of this month, I will give some more. The next time you are in a gallery, look around – the person standing next to you scribbling into a journal could be writing something for the ages!

Martín Paddack, Museum Shop Book Buyer