Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Phillips Collection: Washington's Other Museum

For visitors to Washington DC, there is an art collection just off Dupont Circle that is miles away from the Smithsonian museum complex in both scale and temperament. In a town of state institutions and memorials, the Phillips Collection is all about a private individual and an intimate space. Reminding NoCrowds of the Wallace Collection in London and the Jacquemart-Andre Museum in Paris, at the heart of the Phillips Collection is a romantic story involving a visionary collector and a grand house. In this case, the visionary collector was Duncan Phillips, the grand house was his Georgian Revival home and the story involves his appreciation of then little known artists who went on to become the masters of 20th century art.

Dashing into the museum between meetings, we were able to view works from the permanent collection, including the iconic Luncheon of the Boating Party by Renoir and lots of wonderful European and American impressionists and post impressionists. We also visited the special exhibition Christo and Jean-Claude: Over the River, a Work in Progress. Ever since these two artists transformed New York’s Central Park with “The Gates” installation, we’ve wondered how they ever got such a project off the ground. The Over the River exhibition provided lots of interesting information about how Christo and Jean-Claude conceive and bring about one of their installations.

We didn’t have lots of time for our visit to the Phillips Collection but it still sticks in our mind. We like the fact that in a town full of huge state-supported institutions, there is also room for a premier private initiative. Being a private institution, there is a somewhat complicated charging system for admission on the weekend and for the special exhibitions, but admission to the permanent collection during the week is free and all the time for under 18s. In any event, we feel the bottom line is that the setting, the house, the art and the story are first class. We enjoyed the scale and lack of crowds. By all means, visit the museums on the Mall but save some time and energy for the Phillips Collection, Washington’s other museum.

The Phillips Collection
1600 21st Street, NW
Washington, DC 20009

Opening Hours:
Tuesday – Saturday 10am – 5pm
Thursday – until 8:30pm
Sunday – 11am – 6pm

Admission to Christo and Jean Claude: Over the River and to the permanent collection on the weekend is $12
Photo 0f Marjorie and Duncan Phillips by Naomi Savage in front of Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party from the Phillips Collection website

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