Everybody Is a Genius ...but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. --Albert Einstein
PICASSO: PAINTING THE BLUE PERIOD
FEBRUARY 26 - JUNE 12, 2022
FEBRUARY 26 - JUNE 12, 2022
Highlighting major conservation discoveries of images beneath the surface, this is the first exhibition in DC in 25 years to focus on Picasso’s early works
—Picasso: Painting the Blue Period, co-organized by The Phillips Collection and the Art Gallery of Ontario, is the culmination of more than twelve years of scientific and curatorial research on Pablo Picasso’s Blue Period. Comprised of artworks from 30 international collections, the exhibition will feature more than 90 paintings, sculptures, and works on paper by Picasso as well as works by French and Spanish artists that he studied before and during the Blue Period.
The exhibition provides new insight into his creative process, including visual documentation of groundbreaking technical studies, which initially began in the Phillips’s Sherman Fairchild Conservation Studio. The Phillips Collection’s presentation of Picasso: Painting the Blue Period will be on view February 26 through June 12, 2022, following its run at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto. It is the first exhibition in Washington, DC, in 25 years to focus on Picasso’s early works. Phillips Curator Susan Behrends Frank co-curated the exhibition with Kenneth Brummel, associate curator of modern art at the Art Gallery.
The Blue Period (1901–04) marks a pivotal moment in Picasso’s career when he found his own distinct voice that would come to define his work over the next seven decades. The young Spanish artist, then a fledgling painter in his late teens and early twenties moving between Barcelona and Paris, formulated his signature Blue Period style by engaging with the subject matter and motifs in specific works he encountered by Old Masters and his contemporaries alike. The Blue Period works in the exhibition reveal Picasso’s evolving and sometimes controversial approach to issues of sex, class, poverty, despair, charity, and female incarceration—themes we are still grappling with today.
At the heart of Picasso: Painting the Blue Period is new scientific and art historical research undertaken on the three Blue Period paintings in the collections of the two co-organizing institutions: The Blue Room (Paris, 1901) from The Phillips Collection, and Crouching Beggarwomen (Barcelona, 1902) and The Soup (Barcelona, 1903) from the Art Gallery of Ontario. The research on The Blue Room was led by The Phillips Collection’s Associate Conservator Patricia Favero. Research on the two Blue Period artworks in the collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario was led by Conservator Emerita Sandra Webster-Cook. This is the first exhibition to approach the Blue Period in this manner. These studies form the technical foundation of the exhibition, establishing context for these works with particular focus on the underlying hidden compositions and motifs newly revealed beneath each work. The exhibition’s final section tracks how Picasso revisited and repurposed themes from the three works into the late Blue Period and early Rose Period of 1905–06.
Pablo Picasso's Blue Period (1901-04) and the Legacy of Pierre Puvis de Chavannes
Co-presented by New York Studio School and The Phillips Collection
March 9, 2022, 6:30 pm | Free/online/open registration
Dr. Susan Behrends Frank, Curator, The Phillips Collection
Aimée Brown Price, Faculty, Art History, New York Studio School
Kenneth Brummel, Associate Curator, Modern Art, Art Gallery of Ontario
Picasso: Painting the Blue Period is co-organized by The Phillips Collection and the Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto, Canada) with the exceptional support of the Musée national Picasso-Paris.
ABOUT THE PHILLIPS COLLECTION
The Phillips Collection, America’s first museum of modern art, was founded in 1921. The museum houses one of the world’s most celebrated Impressionist and American modern art collections, and continues to grow its collection with important contemporary voices. Its distinctive building combines extensive new galleries with the former home of its founder, Duncan Phillips. The Phillips’s impact spreads nationally and internationally through its diverse and experimental special exhibitions and events, including its award-winning education programs for educators, students, and adults; renowned Phillips Music series; and dynamic art and wellness and Phillips after 5 events. The museum contributes to global dialogues with events like Conversations with Artists and Artists of Conscience. The Phillips Collection values its community partnership with THEARC—the museum’s satellite campus in Southeast DC. The Phillips Collection is a private, non-government museum, supported primarily by donations.
THE PHILLIPS AT HOME
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The Phillips Collection, 1600 21st Street, NW, Washington, DC 20009
Malaysian Food Fest is Here
by Cary Pollak
His Excellency Azmil Zabidi, Ambassador of Malaysia to the US, and his wife Karen Low Zabidi
The Malaysian Food Fest is currently ongoing in the Washington, DC area. It was recently launched at the Satay Club restaurant in northwest Washington, DC, where His Excellency Azmil Zabidi, Ambassador of Malaysia to the US, opened the event by wishing “Selamat Datang” or welcome to invited guests, who could enjoy the festivities and the food inside or outside of the venue. Ambassador Zabidi explained that the challenges of the pandemic this year prevented the Food Fest from being introduced at the embassy, but the importance of “food diplomacy” and the Malaysian tradition of “makan-makan” (eating as part of all events) drove the decision to launch at the Satay Club restaurant.
As was fitting for an event that promotes Malaysian food products, also in attendance were Mr. Akbal Setia representing the Malaysian Tourism Promotion Board and Ms. Erny Sabrina, the embassy’s Agricultural Counselor. The first Malaysian Food Fest was held in 2018 in New York to highlight the tropical fruit, durian, and quickly grew to encompass many other food products from that country. It is now supported by cooking demonstrations to celebrate Malaysian cuisine at restaurants in Los Angeles and New York in addition to DC (at Makan restaurant as well as the Satay Club).
Malaysia, located in the southern reaches of southeast Asia, has its own distinctive cuisine. A number of its dishes are similar to those found in Indonesia, the sprawling nation to its south, as well as in other countries in that region. In Malaysia, however, the ethnic blend of people of indigenous as well as Chinese and Indian origin makes for a unique kind of fusion cuisine.
An outstanding version of nasi lemak was served to guests at the launch at the Satay Club. That legendary dish is centered around rice cooked in coconut milk, and depending on the part of Malaysia in which you dine, it comes with a variety of garnishes such as hard-boiled egg, roasted peanuts, cucumber slices, a spicy sauce called sambal and small fried anchovies. It can also be accompanied by vegetables, seafood or a curry of lamb, chicken or beef. It was traditionally served for breakfast but is now popular throughout the day.
If nasi lemak piques your interest in even more exotic Malaysian rice dishes, try going on line to find a recipe for nasi kerabu which originated in the state of Kelantan in northern peninsular Malaysia. You will know it when you see it because the rice is tinged a distinctive light blue from being mixed with pulverized butterfly pea flowers. It is served topped with additions such as bean sprouts, salted eggs, fried coconut and fish or chicken, and sometimes bathed in a spicy fermented fish sauce called budu.
All photos by Donna Christenson
The world of Malaysian food products and culinary delights is well worth exploring. The best way to do that is to check out the Facebook and YouTube sources mentioned below and perhaps obtain the interesting food products you read about and try your hand at a few recipes. Many Washington, DC area Asian grocery stores carry Malaysian products, including Hung Phat Grocery in Silver Spring, The Great Wall and H Mart stores in Virginia and Maryland. The next best way is to patronize restaurants like Makan or Satay Club that feature Malaysian dishes. Perhaps better still is to plan a trip to Malaysia when conditions allow and sample the authentic cuisine at its source!
To learn more, including information about products and a demonstration on how to prepare Malaysia's unofficial national dish, nasi lemak, go to the YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCBNWi16QJZu5ufuH35Rtz0Q. In addition to the current nasi lemak episode, there will eventually be a total of 12 videos, featuring dishes including Curry Laksa, Sambal Shrimp with Petai, Ayam Masak Merah, Chicken Curry with Roti Jala, Pulut Panggang, Cucur Padak, and Durian Butter Loaf Cake, among others. Also, you can follow this event on the Malaysia Food Fest USA page on Facebook.
Hokusai: Mad About Painting
By Gordon Chin
photos by Donna Christenson
“Hokusai: Mad About Painting”, currently at the Freer Gallery of Art, highlights the extraordinary collecting acumen of Charles Lang Freer in commemoration of the centennial of his death in 1919 and in celebration of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo in 2020 (now postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic until 2021). Freer assembled the world’s largest collection of Katsushika Hokusai (1760 - 1849) sketches, paintings and drawings and according to his will, artwork does not travel outside the gallery building. This show is a rare opportunity to view about 120 works that range from six-panel folding screens, hanging and rolled scrolls, paintings, drawings and manga.
Although all Smithsonian Museums are currently closed (this review was written before the shutdown), the reader can virtually view the exhibit that runs through January 2021. The Freer has made it easy to see this show through their website at https://asia.si.edu/exhibition/hokusai-mad-about-painting/. Just click on the “NEW: Explore objects in this exhibition” written in red.
Of particular interest are examples of hanshita-e, the preparatory drawings that are sacrificed in the process of carving woodblocks prior to printing and the large unfinished tableau painting of Chinese bandit heroes. Both show the intermediate steps in Hokusai’s creative process that is usually unseen by the viewer.
The hanshita-e reveals the refined draftsmanship of Hokusai’s preparatory drawings. These line figures are pasted on top of the woodblock and the carver cuts along the drawn outlines into the wood thus destroying the original. Here the drawings have been preserved untouched and the fine lines of the figures, especially the hair and beard, can be seen. The process of woodblock printing is a collaborative effort with specialists such as carvers, inkers, and pressers playing essential roles in producing the final print. The registration of each colored layer and the application of ink gradations in sky tone, for example, require the hands of seasoned craftsmen.
Japanese translations of the 14th century Chinese classic known variously as “Water Margin”, “Outlaws of the Marsh”, “Tales of the Marsh”, or “All Men Are Brothers”, were extremely popular due in large part to being illustrated by Hokusai. In a dispute between the translator and Hokusai, the publisher of this popular series of renegade bandit exploits sided with Hokusai. The large tableau in the current show features over one hundred Chinese bandit heroes in various stages of completion.
All the figures, dressed either in Tang or Ming dynasty armor or garments, have been outlined. A cluster of figures have been completely colored in. Others have been partially colored. The progress of completion appears haphazard with no clear direction. Each figure is identified by a nearby cartouche. Some cartouches are blacked out. Some are left blank. Others have been filled in. One can imagine that all the outlined figures and the completed portions have been done by Hokusai himself as examples for his studio apprentices to perform the more tedious and repetitive task of completing the rest of the large tableau.
This sample of the 1000 yen bill to be issued in 2024 was printed by the official producer of Japanese currency, the National Printing Bureau of Japan.
This Hokusai exhibit is a limited but diverse view of the artist’s works that contrasts with the blockbuster 2012 Sackler/Freer exhibit of “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji” that contains the “Great Wave off Kanagawa. The “Great Wave”, not in the current show, is a global icon and it will be more so as the image will be imprinted on the 2021 Japanese 1000 yen note. The most notable overlaps between the two shows are “Thunder God” and “Boy Viewing Mount Fuji” with the surprising caption of the latter work in the current show asking the viewer to assess its authenticity as a Hokusai masterpiece.
Every great artist is a keen observer and Hokusai’s magic is capturing a moment in a beautiful rendering that is full of meaning. In the series of courtesan portraits, one carefully coiffed and kimono robed beauty holds an unopened letter in hand and in a hesitant step anticipates the unread contents. Another is sitting in intense concentration on New Year’s morning tying good luck ribbons on her pillow and in so doing let show an immodest (for the times) view of her legs. In his fan painting “Cuckoo Flying”, Hokusai captured the swirling moment of the twisting bird in mid-flight seemingly in pursuit of the insect-like calligraphy across the fan. Then in “Boy Viewing Mount Fuji”, Hokusai depicts the moment of pure whimsy when the entranced boy, delicately balanced on a willow limb above a gurgling brook, serenades distant Mt. Fuji with a flute.
Hokusai often used common life as subjects of his art. In a series of illustrations for poetry, Hokusai captured the travails of workers in the process of making mochi, which requires the hammering of rice into a sticky and starchy mass. At the moment one worker is struggling to extract the stuck hammer, another is holding down the container of mochi. In the corner a coworker laughs at the frantic antics of the two.
Hokusai’s occupation with life’s common elements is also evidenced by panels in the folding screens, where many scenes are of people going about their everyday business; strolling, shopping, repairing a thatch roof, bathing, fishing, etc. In contrast, another painted screen featured panels that depicted the palace life of Japanese court aristocracy a hundred years before Hokusai. The distant formality of the court scenes highlights the vibrancy of Hokusai’s works.
The panels of Hokusai’s screens are a bit of a hodgepodge. Some depict common life while another is the gloriously beautiful winter landscape of a flock of swooping birds with a swirl of leaves and snow blown across the scene. But Hokusai was proud of his talent and he often self-advertised his versatility by rendering a great variety of subject matters as these panels demonstrate. This is most obvious in the rolled scrolls on exhibit that showcased people in various poses, birds, insects, plants and flowers, three version of waves, and ending with a self-portrait in the guise of an ancient sage. His manga (originally meaning doodles) is another example in this collection containing a range of subjects that shows off his talent to expertly draw anything.
"Boy Viewing Mt. Fuji"
Hokusai had a long career. He used at least thirty different names during his lifetime, each change at an important transition in his career. The name we know him most by, Hokusai (meaning North Studio and short for North Star Studio), was adopted at the peak of his creative powers. He began drawing at age 6 and continued in his early years as apprentice to a wood carver, then to an artist of ukiyo-e, a style of woodblock prints focused on courtesans and Kabuki actors, and then he set out to establish his own name. He produced his most important works after age 60, such as the “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji,” which included the famous “Great Wave.”
Famously, Hokusai wrote as a postscript to the follow up collection “One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji”: “From the age of six, I had a passion for copying the form of things and since the age of fifty I have published many drawings, yet of all I drew by my seventieth year there is nothing worth taking into account. At seventy-three years I partly understood the structure of animals, birds, insects and fishes, and the life of grasses and plants. And so, at eighty-six I shall progress further: at ninety I shall even penetrate their secret meaning, and by one hundred I shall perhaps truly have reached the level of the marvelous and divine. When I am one hundred and ten, each dot, each line will possess a life of its own” [Calza, Gian Carlo, “Hokusai: A Universe” in “Hokusai”, p. 7 Phaidon].
In the show, a pair of scrolls show two Hokusai dragons ascending and descending with the length of their bodies occupying the narrow space but with droll expressions on their faces as if, despite the mystery and power of their presence, a weariness has overtaken their existence. His angry red-faced “Thunder God” emerging from the dark spirals of black clouds, painted at age 88, shows a master at the height of his powers. Hokusai signed his later works as “Old Man Crazy About Painting”. He died at age ninety, believing that he had not yet attained the divine level of self-prescribed skill for which he aimed.
Hokusai could not have imagined what a pervasive global impact he has made in our culture today.
When the Smithsonian re-opens, the show is located at “Hokusai: Mad About Painting” at the Freer Gallery of Art, galleries 5-8, 1050 Independence Ave SW, Washington, D.C. until January 2021.
Taiwan’s 2019 National Day Celebration Featured a
Warm Welcome and a World Class Whiskey!
By Cary Pollak
In these days of social isolation it is nice to remember some of the large and festive gatherings that were a routine part of life in the Washington, DC area during the past year. One of the best was the 108th National Day of Taiwan celebrated last October 10 at Taiwan’s magnificent Twin Oaks estate located in northwest Washington DC. It was an extraordinarily entertaining and educational event. The 18+ acre property and the 1888 English Georgian Renaissance style mansion that sits atop a hill were first occupied by emissaries of the Republic of China in 1937 and currently serves as the base of that government’s representative in the US, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO).
Taiwan’s national day is often referred to as the 10/10 or Double Ten Day celebration because it is held every year on the 10th of October. On that date in 1911 an uprising began which resulted in the establishment of the Republic of China on January 1, 1912. In his gracious remarks to the huge crowd assembled on the grounds of Twin Oaks, Stanley Kao, the ROC’s representative to the U.S., emphasized the strength of the relationship between the two countries.
Taiwan does not have official diplomatic relations with Washington but Mr. Kao pointed out that the ties still are strong. He noted that a few months earlier there was a reception on Capitol Hill in recognition of the 40th anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act which encouraged commercial, cultural and other relations between the two governments. According to Mr. Kao, “Taiwan has thrived to become an economic powerhouse, a democratic success story, a reliable partner and force for good in the world.” He emphasized his point by noting that Taiwan is the 11th largest trading partner of the US and the 2nd biggest consumer of US goods (after Canada) on a per capita basis.
After Mr. Kao concluded his remarks the crowd moved into a huge tent that had been set up to house an exquisite reception. Platters and chafing dishes full of Western and Asian delights appeared on dozens of tables and included specialties unique to Taiwan.
One example was the $100 per bottle Kavalan single malt whiskey which was infused into vanilla ice cream for a special treat. Several creative cocktails also were available featuring that whisky blended with exotic ingredients such as winter melon, oolong tea and lychee. All of this came as a surprise to many guests who were not from Taiwan and did not know that the island produced whiskey at all. Established in 2005, Kavalan was given the historic name of the county in northeastern Taiwan where it is located. It not only was Taiwan’s first whisky maker, but the first distillery to produce whiskey in a subtropical climate. It soon began to win awards on the world stage and in 2015 the prestigious World Whiskies Awards (WWA) named the Kavalan Solist Viho Barroque its “World’s Best Single Malt Whisky.” Perhaps this achievement is no surprise given Taiwan’s commitment to excellence in so many endeavors.
Before inviting the group to enjoy the reception, Mr. Kao made one final remark that clearly exposed his bias in one area of US cultural life. “Go, Nats, go, go, go” he shouted and indeed that team went on to perform in the World Series as if they heard his encouragement and took it to heart! May the umpire’s cry of “Play Ball” ring in the Nats’ stadium and throughout the country again as soon as it is safe to resume our normal activities.
Soy Isla is the first museum retrospective of Cuban artist Zilia Sánchez (b. 1926, Havana). The long-overdue exhibition examines the artist’s largely unknown career that spans almost 70 years, featuring more than 60 works including shaped canvases and paintings alongside illustrations, design sketches, and ephemera. The exhibition traces Sánchez’s artistic journey from her early days in Cuba and her move to Puerto Rico, where she now lives and works. Sánchez’s works reference female heroines from ancient mythology, motifs of lunar shapes, erotic topologies, and tattoo drawings.
The exhibit continues through May 19 at The Phillips Collection, 1600 21st Street, NW, Washington, DC 20009
Irene Esteves, University of Puerto Rico, (center) discussed the importance of Zilia Sanchez' work and shared personal anecdotes based on her interviews with the artist.
Zilia Sanchez Symposium
at The Phillips Collection
In conjunction with the first museum retrospective of Zilia Sánchez, The Phillips Collection organized a symposium to discuss Sánchez’s work in a broader context. The first part, In Context, featured presentations by prominent art historians that frame Sánchez’s work within the trans-national development of modernism in Cuba, the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. The second part, Curatorial and Scholarly Perspectives, discussed the positioning of Sánchez’s work in museum collections and scholarly research. The third part, Legacy, introducesd Sánchez’s former students (and now accomplished artists), shedding light on the preservation and conservation of the artist's stretched canvases, and touching on current issues in the field of Latin American art.
Taiwan Celebrates the 130th Anniversary of Its DC Estate With
Magnificent Display of Beautiful Taiwanese Orchids!
By Cary Pollak with photos by Donna Christenson
TECRO, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office, serves as Taiwan’s diplomatic presence in the United States. It recently celebrated the 130th anniversary of Twin Oaks, its luxurious 18.24 acre estate in Northwest Washington, DC, by inviting guests to a reception that featured a breathtaking display of orchids that were as grand as the estate itself. The event was co-sponsored by The Taiwanese Council of Agriculture and Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of China (Taiwan). The intricate landscaping was created by the Taiwan Association of Orchid Production and Development.
In attendance at the opening reception on September 27 were representatives of the diplomatic corps, the local business community, think tanks and the press. Stanley Kao, Taiwan’s representative to the United States (photo left) observed that “Twin Oaks is a symbol of friendship and strength of the U.S.-Taiwan relationship,” and explained that the estate “has a storied history, both for sharing the culture of Taiwan and the United States, and also for bearing witness to key historical events in this long and mutually beneficial partnership.” Taiwan’s flourishing orchid industry was well represented by the president of the Taiwan Sugar Corporation (“Taisugar”), Mr. Yu-Chung Huang (photo right), who also addressed the guests at the opening ceremony.
Taisugar hoped to make a sweet business move in the late 1980’s by going into the orchid business and creating new hybrids starting with native Taiwanese plants. Today they are one of the largest orchid producers in the world and they continue to produce new hybrids with regularity. The United States is the number one importer of Taiwanese orchids, absorbing 32% of that nation’s huge output annually.
Another stunning display on the grounds of the estate was comprised of a bed of orchids surrounding a narrow winding stream carrying floating cups. Overlooking the display was a famous sample of ancient writing, the Lantingii Xu, penned in the third century by well known calligrapher Wang Xizhi. The message is a preface to a collection of poems created during a drinking game which required the poets to write while imbibing cups of wine that floated to them on the stream. Wang is said to have attempted to revise his work at a later date because he created it while inebriated. He ultimately determined that he could not improve on the sublime beauty of the original.
The 26 room Twin Oaks mansion was built in 1888 and is one of the oldest examples of Georgian Revival architecture to be found in the United States. 98 years later, in 1986, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Sites by the U.S. Department of the Interior. The original owner was Gardner Greene Hubbard, founder of the National Geographic Society and father in law of Alexander Graham Bell. He named the estate after two beautiful trees that stood near its entrance. The property has been occupied by its current owners, the Republic of China government since 1937 and is filled with priceless Chinese antiques. TECRO has cared for the property lovingly and did a beautiful job of decorating the estate with orchids for its 130th birthday.
THE PHILLIPS COLLECTION ANNOUNCES RE-OPENING OF HISTORIC HOUSE
AFTER YEAR-LONG RENOVATION PROJECT
WASHINGTON—The Phillips Collection’s historic house galleries will officially open to the public after being closed for a year-long renovation project. The original home to Phillips Collection founder, Duncan Phillips, will reopen with a housewarming celebration on Thursday, June 21, at 6 pm.
Since May 2017, the original 1897 building of The Phillips Collection has been undergoing renovations designed to preserve and enhance the building’s historic character and migrate the house gallery spaces to a fully digitized temperature and humidity control system. A penthouse level with a mansard roof which mirrors that of the original building was added to house the new HVAC equipment, enhancing its anticipated useful life.
The architectural design for the project was developed by Bowie Gridley Architects, and Mueller Associates served as mechanical engineers. The general contractor was Consigli Construction Co. Inc., the firm which also renovated portions of the Renwick Gallery.
“We are approaching an exciting milestone in 2021 when we will commemorate our centennial. These upgrades to the essential control systems governing the temperature and humidity within the museum will ensure the protection of our collection and the enjoyment of our visitors for years to come,” said Phillips Director Dorothy Kosinski. “We are so grateful to Consigli Construction for their valuable partnership with us on this project.”
Modernist design elements were incorporated throughout the gallery spaces along with light-filtering window systems designed to heighten the protection of the works on view. The fire protection system was also enhanced. Farrow & Ball gave in-kind contribution of paint, and consultation about historically appropriate wall papers and paint colors throughout the house. Architectural enhancements in the gallery spaces will be most notable in the Phillips Music Room, which features upgraded wall paneling to improve sound quality and the attendees’ experience for the many music events in the space, most notably the museum’s renowned Sunday Concert series. The house galleries also exhibit a fresh hang of works of art, enhanced in-gallery information provided by our curators that will enrich our visitors‘ experience, as well as improvements to access for disabled visitors.
The other buildings of the museum remained open to the public during the renovations. Popular exhibitions such as Renoir and Friends: Luncheon of the Boating Party and Ten Americans: After Paul Klee were on view during the closure, and the museum’s award-winning educational programs continued apace. In February 2018, the museum opened a new space in Southeast DC at the Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus, Phillips@THEARC.
ABOUT THE PHILLIPS COLLECTION
The Phillips Collection, America’s first museum of Modern art, presents one of the world’s most distinguished Impressionist and American Modern art collections. Including paintings by Renoir and Rothko, Bonnard and O'Keeffe, van Gogh, Diebenkorn, Daumier and Lawrence, among others, the museum continues to actively collect new acquisitions, many by contemporary artists such as Wolfgang Laib, Whitfield Lovell, Zilia Sánchez, and Leo Villareal. Its distinctive building combines extensive new galleries with the former home of its founder, Duncan Phillips. The Phillips’s impact spreads nationally and internationally through its highly distinguished special exhibitions, programs, and events that catalyze dialogue surrounding the continuity between art of the past and the present. Among the Phillips’s esteemed programs are its award-winning education programs for educators, students, and adults; well-established Phillips Music series; and sell-out Phillips after 5 events. The museum contributes to the art conversation on a global scale with events like Conversations with Artists and the International Forum. The Phillips Collection values its community partnerships with the University of Maryland—the museum’s nexus for academic work, scholarly exchange, and interdisciplinary collaborations—and THEARC—the museum’s new campus serving the Southeast DC community. The Phillips Collection is a private, non-government museum, supported primarily by donations.
William Merritt Chase: A Modern Master
A "Must See" Retrospective at The Phillips Collection
by Barbara Bennett and Donna Christenson
William Merritt Chase’ playful oil painting titled “Hide and Seek” has long been a favorite, and we were delighted to view the original, along with a full range of more than 75 of his other works currently featured at The Phillips Collection in a retrospective commemorating the centennial year of the artist’s death. What better example to illustrate the title of The Phillips exhibition, “William Merritt Chase: A Modern Master”. In his Washington Post review, art critic Philip Kennicott questioned whether Chase should be called a “Modern Master” since his work has long been considered conventional and impressionistic. However, one look at “Hide and Seek”; “A City Park”; “The Young Orphan”; and one of his last efforts, his “Self Portrait”, leaves little doubt that in his life’s work Chase went well beyond impressionism. Take away the people or objects in these oil on canvas paintings and you are stunned to see large blocks of color reflecting economy of space and perspective seen later in the likes of a Rothko painting.
Another example of a Modern Master at work is his oil composition “Portrait of Dora Wheeler”, featured with the exhibition’s curator Elsa Smithgall in the photo at right. Chase combined his superb depiction of textured fabrics in the gold-toned background tapestry and his very whimsical inclusion of the black and white cat so seemingly out of place in the left hand corner of this serious portrait rendition. He definitely was forward thinking in his painting, much like other more-recognized and classified Modern Masters who painted in the modern period from 1860 until 1950.
Chase’s oil paintings are stunning and certainly worthy of this long overdue retrospective, but it is his surprisingly intense pastels that really set him above others of his generation. “Spring Flowers (Peonies)” is exquisitely rendered with his strong use of red, white and green pastels. This lovely partial profile portrait of an elegant woman in Asian dress draws us to her serene essence and mood. “May I Come In” is another pastel treasure on exhibit where we see large surfaces of color, a shimmering copper urn and gold leaf picture frame, rich textures on wall hangings and furnishings with lots of tassels, and then, partially hidden by the door, the image of a beautiful woman hesitating at the entrance.
All photos by Donna Christenson
In addition to his own paintings, whether in oil or pastel, there also should be no doubt that William Merritt Chase was an innovative and extremely influential teacher who spearheaded the advancement of American Modern art through his students of the next generation. In an adjacent annex, The Phillips is featuring works from its own permanent collection by well-known former students such as Georgia O’Keefe, Edward Hopper, Marsden Hartley, John Marin and Joseph Stella. William Merritt Chase taught at all of the best art schools of his time, including 12 years at the Shinnecock Summer School of Art, the largest plein-air art school in America. Impressively, many of his well-regarded paintings were created in a single session as he demonstrated amazing virtuosity in techniques to his students. Perhaps as important to his imprint on Modern art is his legacy school, the Chase School of Art, which later was renamed the New York School of Art and has evolved to become part of what today is known as The New School’s Parsons School of Design. Located in New York City, it ranks as one of the top art schools in the United States. The current exhibit William Merritt Chase: A Modern Master is co-organized by The Phillips Collection, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, Fondazione Musei Civici Venezia and the Terra Foundation for American Art. This impressive exhibit was five years in the planning and execution, with countless hours of cooperation between three principal representatives: Elsa Smithgall, curator of the special exhibit of The Phillips Collection; Cary Haslett, PhD Program Director, Exhibition and Academic Grants at the Terra Foundation for American Art and Erica Hirshler Croll, Senior Curator of American Paintings Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
The retrospective will be featured at The Phillips Collection in Washington, DC until September 11, 2016. It will then move to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston from October 9, 2016 until January 16, 2017. Finally, the exhibit will travel internationally in February 2017 to the International Gallery of Modern Art in Venice, Italy.