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Past Exhibitions


abstract painting of twisted trees

European Masterworks: The Phillips Collection

April 6–July 14, 2019

European Masterworks: The Phillips Collection presents the pioneering collecting approach of Duncan Phillips (1886–1966). As the founding director of The Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, Phillips opened the first museum of modern art in the United States in 1921. In a gallery added to his family’s Georgian Revival home, he began his mission to define modern art and its origins, starting with nineteenth-century influences and moving through the present. Grouping works by their aesthetic temperament, he brought together artists from different places and times to “trace their common descent from old masters who anticipated modern ideas.”

The iconic works by Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, Expressionist, and Cubist artists in European Masterworks show Phillips’s efforts to bring European modernism to a larger audience.  Phillips saw his museum as an “experiment station” that tested new ideas. Enthusiastic about the art of his time, he promoted independent, varied voices, including those outside the mainstream, whom he encouraged by collecting their work in depth. He revered artists who achieved mastery of color, the power of great emotion, and the balance of representation and abstraction. A patron of free spirits, Phillips shared a passionate and personal dialogue with many artists and was motivated by the “joy-giving and life-enhancing” power of beauty.

Any reproduction of these digitized images shall not be made without the written consent of The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.

Click on an image below to learn more.

“To collect works of art is good, to collect only what one particularly likes is better, and to collect only such works as mingle agreeably together is to make the best kind of collection.” – Duncan Phillips

About Duncan Phillips
Duncan Phillips photographed in the 1940s
Duncan Phillips, circa 1940s.

Duncan Phillips (1886‒1966) was the younger son of Major Duncan Phillips, a Pittsburgh businessman and Civil War veteran, and Eliza Laughlin Phillips, whose father was a banker and co-founder of the Jones and Laughlin steelworks. He moved with his family to Washington, D.C., in 1895. After graduating from Yale in 1908, Phillips wrote extensively about art and published his first book, “The Enchantment of Art,” in 1914.

Along with his brother, Jim, Phillips began to collect art in 1916 with the support of his parents. His father’s death in 1917 and Jim’s death from influenza in 1918 were stunning blows to Phillips, and he and his mother responded by founding the museum, originally called the Phillips Memorial Art Gallery. In October 1921, just before the museum opened, Phillips married artist Marjorie Acker, and the two worked together closely to build the museum’s collection.

Over the ensuing years, Phillips continued to write about art, build strong relationships with artists as patron and collector, present numerous exhibitions and frequently rearrange works of art in the galleries. He served as the museum’s director until his death in 1966.


Organization and Support

European Masterworks: The Phillips Collection is organized by The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC

This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

This exhibition is made possible by

Exhibition Series Sponsors

Premier Exhibition Series Supporter
The Antinori Foundation
Sarah and Jim Kennedy
Louise Sams and Jerome Grilhot

Benefactor Exhibition Series Supporter
Anne Cox Chambers Foundation

Ambassador Exhibition Supporters
Tom and Susan Wardell
Rod Westmoreland

Contributing Exhibition Series Supporters
The Ron and Lisa Brill Family Charitable Trust
Lucinda W. Bunnen
Corporate Environments
Marcia and John Donnell
W. Daniel Ebersole and Sarah Eby-Ebersole
Peggy Foreman
Robin and Hilton Howell
Mr. and Mrs. Baxter Jones
Joel Knox and Joan Marmo
Margot and Danny McCaul
The Ron and Lisa Brill Family Charitable Trust

Generous support is also provided by
Alfred and Adele Davis Exhibition Endowment Fund, Anne Cox Chambers Exhibition Fund, Barbara Stewart Exhibition Fund, Marjorie and Carter Crittenden, Dorothy Smith Hopkins Exhibition Endowment Fund, Eleanor McDonald Storza Exhibition Endowment Fund, The Fay and Barrett Howell Exhibition Fund, Forward Arts Foundation Exhibition Endowment Fund, Helen S. Lanier Endowment Fund, Isobel Anne Fraser–Nancy Fraser Parker Exhibition Endowment Fund, John H. and Wilhelmina D. Harland Exhibition Endowment Fund, Katherine Murphy Riley Special Exhibition Endowment Fund, Margaretta Taylor Exhibition Fund, Massey Charitable Trust, RJR Nabisco Exhibition Endowment Fund, and Dr. Diane L. Wisebram