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Renoir to Matisse: The Eye of Duncan Phillips
Duncan Phillips collected art that he loved. From the early 1910s until his death in 1966, he studied art and sought the finest examples, often acquiring works that were truly contemporary.
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA.- More than 50 of the most outstanding modern masterworks will be on view for the first-time in Los Angeles through January 9, 2005 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, LACMA. The exhibition Renoir to Matisse: The Eye of Duncan Phillips provides an opportunity to experience European masterpieces from The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., one of the first museums in the United States to present modern art. The LACMA exhibition is presented to evoke the domestic setting Duncan Phillips chose when he opened his collection and his home to the public in 1921. The 19th –20th century works by Pierre Bonnard, Paul Cézanne, Honoré Daumier, Edgar Degas, Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Franz Marc, Claude Monet, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir reveal both Duncan Phillips’ passion for contemporary art and how he came to form his collection.

“Duncan Phillips felt that the encouragement of living artists was the most important function of art patronage. He purchased a wide range of works of art and was ready to change his mind often. His personal collection, now publicly available, reveals a keen eye and passion for particular artists. Seeing works of art at The Phillips Collection in Washington is a profoundly personal and intimate experience. We hope our visitor will be able to share some of that in LACMA’s presentation,” says LACMA Modern and Contemporary Art Chief Curator Stephanie Barron.

Duncan Phillips collected art that he loved. From the early 1910s until his death in 1966, he studied art and sought the finest examples, often acquiring works that were truly contemporary. Some were shockingly unconventional, while others conformed to more traditional taste. Phillips simultaneously embodied two American traits – he was both a generous philanthropist and a maverick. Like other civic-minded collectors, he felt keenly the responsibility to make his personal collection publicly accessible. But he rejected the notion that art should be exhibited in large, imposing, and intimidating institutions. He chose instead to display his astonishing collection in the intimate, domestic setting of his own home.

Phillips defied convention in another important way. Rather than relying on the advice of professionals, he formed his collection himself, together with his wife Marjorie (herself an artist). They traveled widely, seeking paintings and sculptures available in well-known galleries, but also buying directly from artists’ studios. Phillips was a firm believer in collecting the art of his own time.

Rejecting the notion that a collection should encompass a cohesive presentation of a particular style, Phillips sought to “buy and exhibit what I can genuinely respect and enjoy.” The resulting collection, he concluded, was “made with enjoyment for the enjoyment of others.” He freely acknowledged “the essentially intimate character of the collection and its personal associations.” The Phillips Collection is the enduring legacy of one of America’s most astute art patrons.

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