The Phillips Collection Presents Masterworks from the Allen Memorial Art Museum

Washington, D.C. – Illustrating its unconventional approach to displaying art, The Phillips Collection will present loosely themed groupings of some of its own masterworks with 25 masterpieces from Oberlin College’s Allen Memorial Art Museum. Half of the 24 paintings and one sculpture on loan from the Allen are old masters, dating from the 16th to the 18th centuries.

They include rare works by painters of the British, Dutch, Flemish, French, German, Italian, and Spanish schools. The other Allen pieces are important modern works of the 19th and 20th centuries. Oberlin extended the opportunity to display some of its treasures to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and to the Phillips while the Allen is closed for renovations. Side by Side: Oberlin’s Masterworks at the Phillips, opens September 11, 2010, and runs through January 16, 2011.

Side by Side highlights defining features of The Phillips Collection: displays that combine works of different periods, nationalities, and styles, and constant rearrangement of the collection to reveal new affinities between works of art. This approach started with its founder, Duncan Phillips (1866–1966), who viewed the history of art as a continuing series of conversations between artists and works.

“Duncan Phillips was interested in showing modern art’s historical roots,” says Phillips Director Dorothy Kosinski. “That is why he bought an El Greco, a Goya, and a Giorgione. Early on, he hoped to have examples of work by several other old masters, including Rubens, who is represented in this selection from Oberlin. Having these truly wonderful works from Oberlin is a special opportunity to expand the context of our own collection and modern art in general.”

The Allen’s Rubens, The Finding of Erichthonius (1632–33), illustrating a story from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, will be shown with the Phillips’s radiant and enchanting Luncheon of the Boating Party (1880–81), Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s great impressionist summary of modern life. Renoir is known to have copied works by Peter Paul Rubens, and in the second half of his career, when Renoir turned away from impressionism, he again looked to Rubens for inspiration. Other works in this part of the exhibition are by artists in The Phillips Collection who frequented the Louvre and copied works of art in it, including Berthe Morisot, Edgar Degas, and Ferdinand-Victor-Eugène Delacroix.

Other highlights among the old masters in Side by Side include one of the most important examples of northern baroque painting in the United States, Hendrick ter Bruggen’s Saint Sebastian Tended by Irene (1625); The Fountain of Life, a superb 16th-century painting probably painted in Spain after a work by Jan van Eyck; and Joseph Wright of Derby’s night scene Dovedale by Moonlight (c. 1784–85). Oberlin’s modern holdings include works by Alberto Giacometti, Barnett Newman, Pablo Picasso, and Mark Rothko.

Landscape is a strong suit at the Phillips, and many works on loan from the Allen play to this strength. Several, like Wright’s, show the world at night: Giuseppe Cesari’s The Agony in the Garden (Christ on the Mount of Olives) (1597–98) and Pier Francesco Mola’s Mercury Putting Argus to Sleep (1645–55). Christ’s angelic vision illuminates Cesari’s painting, but in the paintings by Mola and Wright, the light source is the moon. These nocturnal scenes find numerous echoes in The Phillips Collection, where silvery moonlight gleams in paintings such as Arthur Dove’s Me and the Moon (1937) and George Inness’s Moonlight, Tarpon Springs (1892).

Joseph Mallord William Turner’s shimmering View of Venice: The Ducal Palace, Dogana and Part of San Giorgio (1841) is one of the outstanding landscape offerings from Oberlin. Like his rival John Constable, represented in The Phillips Collection by On the River Stour (1834–37), Turner had a powerful effect on modern landscape painting. Claude Monet, an artist who was profoundly influenced by him, is represented in the Allen’s works by Garden of the Princess, Louvre (1867). Painted from a window at the Louvre, with a high vantage point, and a distinctive vertical format, the painting is one of the artist’s first views of the city. In a spatially complex composition, looking across an empty expanse of garden, the artist shows a bustling, tree-lined embankment of the Seine, a slice of river, and a cityscape beyond. The painting represents a much earlier stage in Monet’s development than The Road to Vétheuil (1879) and Val-Saint-Nicholas, near Dieppe (Morning) (1897), owned by the Phillips.

Among other modern landscapes on view in Side by Side, Paul Cézanne’s Viaduct at L’Estaque (1882) from the Allen adds another dimension to the rich imagery of the south of France, represented at the Phillips by strong holdings of landscapes by Pierre Bonnard, Cézanne, and Vincent van Gogh, among others.

A display of portraits will include one of the most dramatic works in the exhibition, the Allen’s Self-Portrait as a Soldier (1915), by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. Kirchner painted himself in the uniform of his artillery regiment, his eyes vacant and without pupils, a cigarette dangling from his lips, and his right hand horrifyingly amputated. Painted when Kirchner was recuperating from illness and unfit for active duty, this searing portrait expresses the artist’s terror in the face of war. The Phillips’s uncompromising Cézanne self-portrait of 1878–80 will hang nearby as will Oberlin’s Michiel Sweerts’s Self-Portrait (1656).

Historic New York school works from the Allen will hang immediately outside the Rothko Room: Mark Rothko’s The Syrian Bull, Adolph Gottlieb’s The Rape of Persephone, and Barnett Newman’s Onement IV. In 1943, The Syrian Bull and The Rape of Persephone were exhibited at the Third Annual Exhibition of Modern Painters and Sculptors. In response, Edward Alden Jewell from the New York Times used these paintings to criticize the incomprehensibility of recent modern art. Within five days, Gottlieb, Rothko, and Newman wrote a challenge to Jewell that in turn set the aesthetic and cultural themes for the New York school.

The Phillips Collection is located in the heart of Washington’s historic Dupont Circle neighborhood, at 1600 21st Street, NW, near the Dupont Circle Metro (Q Street exit). Museum hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursdays until 8:30 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Closed Mondays and New Year’s Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day.

Image: Hendrick ter Bruggen’s Saint Sebastian Tended by Irene (1625). Oil on Canvas. Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, Ohio. R. T. Miller Jr. Fund, 1953

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