Art: Young Collector


Monday, Dec. 30, 1929



Wealthy collectors of art are usually old men who, upon retiring from business, find little to do. In Washington, D. C., there is, however, a young man who is devoting his life to picture collecting and propaganda. He is Duncan Phillips, tall, slender son of the late Major D. Clinch Phillips, Pittsburgh manufacturer (glass). For eleven years young Phillips has been owner of a one-man museum of modern art.


When he graduated from Yale (1908) Duncan Phillips had more literary than esthetic interest. As a child he had lived in gloomy Pittsburgh where his father's house was hung with murky landscapes of the Hudson River School in massive, gilded frames. Small Phillips decided he disliked pictures. After college he traveled widely in search, he says, of something to interest him. Paintings did it. His first enthusiasm was Honore Daumier (1808-79) French caricaturist and painter; afterward there were others: the French Impressionists, French and American moderns. But his first interest never waned; today Mr. Phillips has the best Daumier collection in the world. In 1918 he had enough pictures to open the Phillips Memorial Gallery in his home on 21st Street, Washington. Since then the collection has grown so large that paintings are crowding the family out. Another house is now being built where the family will live, but when they move they will not strip the 21st Street house of its furnishings. It is one of Mr. Phillips' theories that pictures should be seen in incidental surroundings, not in the vaultlike rooms of great museums. His collection is open to all visitors, but Mr. Phillips does not want it to be a rubberneckers' haunt. Unlike most collectors, he gives no extemporaneous lectures to casual visitors but will talk privately to the interested.


Last fortnight Duncan Phillips published for the first time a magazine named Art and Understanding. It is hereafter to appear twice a year. Called "A Phillips Publication," and written for the most part by the publisher himself, its illustrations are from canvases in the Phillips Gallery. There are also reprinted articles by John Galsworthy and Virgil Barker. In the opening editorial Collector Phillips gives his credo: "There is nothing esoteric and beyond the comprehension of the average man in that incessant spiritual activity, almost as old as the human species, which we call art. . . . The machine age promises to provide more and more opportunity for leisure. Those who tire of the accelerated pace of modern life and the furious tempo of its entertainments may turn to the fine arts for a cultivation of their vacant time. In such a belief I am striving year after year to interpret to people, distracted by . . . worthless diversions, not only the artist's point of view, collectively, as a state of mind common' to all true artists . . . but also an artist's point of view, whichever of the million and one I happen to be considering."



From: TIME online, 2011