Picks and Pans Main: Etc.

updated 02/15/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/15/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST


"Impressionism and the Modern Vision," the currently touring exhibition of 75 canvases from the celebrated Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., constitutes an extraordinary introduction to modern art. For the first time the gallery, one of the jewels of the nation's capital, is allowing some of the world's best-known paintings to travel around the country. San Francisco and Dallas (where the show closes Feb. 14) have already played host to the treasures. The show opens March 14 at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and remains through May 30. After that it will move on to Atlanta and Oklahoma City.

The paintings reflect the taste and sensibility of Duncan Phillips (1886-1966), heir to a steel fortune, who began collecting after graduating from Yale in 1908. Thirteen years later, in two rooms of the family's large brownstone just off Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, he opened the first U.S. museum devoted to modern art. In 1930 the family found other quarters, giving up the entire mansion to the growing collection. A wing was added in 1960. Together with his artist wife, Marjorie, Phillips traveled extensively for almost five decades gathering a rare sampling of Impressionist and modern art. He also purchased oils by earlier masters who, he believed, foreshadowed the moderns. Some of these visionaries—Chardin, Ingres, Daumier—are included in the exhibit. El Greco's The Repentant Peter, circa 1600, is juxtaposed with Goya's work of the same title, executed more than 200 years later.

By far the biggest crowd pleaser is Renoir's The Luncheon of the Boating Party (1881), a happy group of the artist's friends on the terrace of a restaurant by the Seine. Phillips bought the painting in 1923 for $125,000 (it is now valued at over $10,000,000), and considered it Renoir's finest work. Other standouts include Degas's Dancers at the Bar (done in the late 1880s) and Van Gogh's Entrance to the Public Gardens at Aries (1888), a bright scene darkened by the artist's troubled spirit. Cézanne is represented by a self-portrait and a still life, Rouault by his Circus Trio, Picasso by a woman bathing, from his Blue Period, and by a sculpture, The Jester.

There is a fine range of American canvases, from a foggy ocean scene by John Sloan to a bulky New Mexico church by Georgia O'Keeffe to a moonlit cove by Albert Ryder and abstracts by Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Robert Motherwell. John Marin, Arthur Dove and Milton Avery—who received early support and recognition from Phillips and his wife—are here too.

For those knowledgeable about modern art, the show is an opportunity to view the best of the best, and for those who know nothing about art except what they like, there could not be a better primer. The Phillips Collection hopes the show will raise $1 million toward its $5 million fund-raising goal for much-needed preservation and restoration. Without doubt, the exhibit gives in pleasure much more than it will ever take at the box office.

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