Duncan Phillips began the Phillips Collection in 1918 seeking to create an intimate and comfortable environment in which to view art. It was first named the Phillips Memorial Art Gallery in memory of his father and brother who died within 13 months of each other. Phillips opened it in the family home, where he continued to reside until 1930 – when the gallery became too big to house him as well as the extensive art collection.
Signs of the homey atmosphere persist even with the addition of another building and 1,900 works of art, totaling 2,500. Cushioned arm chairs and fainting couches serve await art lovers instead of the sterile wooden benches most museums provide.
Most works in the Collection are relatively modern, which is fitting, considering the Phillips Collection was the first museum of modern art in the United States.
Winding staircases connect the three levels, while short indoor walkways connect the two buildings. Soft lighting and creaking floors keep the environment intimate. Though both detract a bit from the experience of the art, they make for a very personal look at it.
Another problem with the gallery is the placement of the works. Though some of the artists are grouped together by name and period, most are spread throughout the collection. Picassos hide in corners and some of Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings are scattered among photographic art.
Even though the Phillips Collection is located just off Dupont Circle – away from the Mall with its many galleries – it deserves the extra paces for a couple of hours’ perusal. The range of art is extensive, from before the impressionists to the last decade.
Because the Collection was a home before it became the substantial gallery it is today, it offers a unique experience. Not many other galleries can boast they were home to the collector while open to the public.
The Phillips Collection is located at 1600 21st St. N.W. The hours are Tues.-Sat. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sun. 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. Admission for the weekend is $6.50 for adults and $3.25 for students and seniors. Suggested contribution for the weekdays is the same. Members enter for free. The building is fully handicapped accessible.