Happy Birthday To The Phillips Collection, America's First Museum Of Modern Art
One hundred years ago, America's first museum of modern art opened in a private mansion in Washington, D.C. Founder Duncan Phillips was an early collector of Picasso, Matisse, Van Gogh. The Phillips was the first to buy a Georgia O'Keeffe. Decades ago, in this city of museums, it became my favorite one.
Newly wed and new to Washington, most Sunday afternoons in 1962 Lou Stamberg and I would walk down a hill with coffee and the paper, arrange ourselves on one of the Phillip's brocade love seats, look up at a Matisse or Manet, and ... light our cigarettes. It was like visiting a really rich uncle with fabulous taste and a collector's eye. And ashtrays!
Duncan Phillips had money, taste and the generous heart to help others see beauty. He believed in the healing power of art. One hundred years later, that belief still holds.
Dorothy Kosinski, director of the museum, tells a story: "I was standing outside of the Phillips in the fall when we were open for a while. A woman came out, exhaled, and said, 'Oh! That was such a wonderful vacation!"
She needed it — we all do — a vacation from the pandemic, the economic stresses, the political upheavals. A chance to breathe. I went to the Phillips right after Sept. 11, to be surrounded, in the midst of that horror and confusion, by some eternals: Renoir's amazing Luncheon of the Boating Party, Cézannes, Van Goghs — some healing comforts.