A Modern Vision: Phillips Collection European Masterworks

Val-Saint-Nicolas, near Dieppe (morning) (1897)

I attended A Modern Vision: European Masterworks from the Phillips Collection on Thursday, November 4. The exhibition was organized by The Phillips Collection, one of the largest in the world. The show opened to the public on October 8, 2022, and will remain in the museum until January 22, 2023.

The exposition provides insight into the history behind The Phillips Collection as “a glimpse into the development of the museum’s European modernism painting collection as it was shaped by Duncan Phillips (1886-1966) during the first half of the twentieth century.”

Van Gogh’s The Road Menders (1889) resided on its own wall inches away from Picasso and Monet’s works. Van Gogh witnessed a group repairing a road in Saint-Remy while admitted to a mental hospital, inspiring him to transpose the moment onto the canvas. Phillips acquired the piece after it was included in a loan exhibition. Phillips considered it to be “among the best Van Goghs.”

For Phillips, this piece was “one of the most beautiful Monets I have ever seen and, to my surprise… not sufficiently well known.” Monet tended to reject imaginary landscape concepts that were common in France and instead favored the facilitation of emotional response in his works.

“Degas tells the truth about toe-dancing, the illusion and the disillusion of it.” -Duncan Phillips

Degas' Dancers at the Barre 

At around the halfway point in the exhibition, I came across the large orange backdrop of Dancers at the Barre (1905). For dancers, this is how the day starts. The barre, the stretches, the warming up—all part of a daily ritual for a ballerina. While not everyone is a dancer, the monotonous nature of a day’s work depicted in the piece can be applicable to many professions. I found myself gazing upon it and realizing that this was the first time in months that I allowed myself to rest, to break away from going through the motions. Degas’ illustrations of the moment emphasize its importance in a dancer’s routine; the fluidity of the moment is captured in still. Thankful for the moment the piece gave me, I could almost forgive Degas for equating women to racehorses. Even still, I continued on throughout the showing.

Pablo Picasso’s Woman with Green Hat (1939)
Still Life with Glass and Fruit (1939)

“Art offers two great gifts of emotion—the emotion of recognition and the emotion of escape. Both take us out of the boundaries of self.” —Duncan Phillips

Pablo Picasso’s Woman with Green Hat (1939) depicts Dora Maar, his artistic focus during a time in which he was being separated from his wife and his mistress gave birth. Right next to it rested Still Life with Glass and Fruit (1939). I’ve always been able to appreciate Picasso and his contributions to surrealism and his pioneering techniques in cubism.

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot crafted View from the Farnese Gardens, Rome (1826) while on a 17-day work trip in Italy, spending lots of time outdoors in the Farnese Gardens. The oil landscape depicts a cool morning sky, the mountainous backdrop, and the detail of the cityscape. Duncan Phillips couldn’t get enough of Corot’s masterpieces and considered him to be the “best in naturalism and Classicism.”

Wassily Kandinsky’s Succession (1935)

Wassily Kandinsky’s Succession (1935) lives in my head rent-free. I love the organics in his work and how at the surface it highlights his fascination with amebas. However, his use of scientific drawing-like structures brings to life a music staff, his work turning into a performance of his creative expression. 

It was truly a treat to be able to experience such an installation and view works from historically renowned artists. Being able to give attention to pieces from artists like Picasso and Monet was a bucket-list experience. I highly recommend anyone in the Raleigh area to take advantage of this opportunity before its closing. Admission is free for college students with proof of ID.


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