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Directorial Correspondence: The Correspondence of Duncan Phillips

Identifier: DIG-001

Scope and Contents

Directorial Correspondence includes letters, postcards, telegrams, pamphlets, schedules, invoices, and receipts. These materials document the patronage offered to artists whose works are represented in the collection and include written exchanges with dealers, critics, visitors, staff, family members, museums, galleries, organizations, and historic figures from the early twentieth century. This material includes approximately 50 linear feet of primary source correspondence with Duncan Phillips.


  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1920 - 1960
  • Creation: 1911 - 1966


Conditions Governing Use

This collection was digitized through an Institute of Museum and Library Services Grant (2019-2022). For access to digital folders please contact library staff. Material will be delivered in 1-3 business days.

Biographical / Historical

Duncan Phillips was born in 1886 in Pittsburgh, PA. He lived in Washington, D.C. from 1895 until his death, in 1966. He opened a museum, today called The Phillips Collection, at the time, called Phillips Memorial Gallery in commemoration of his brother and father. He married an artist, Marjorie Acker in 1921 as well. Marjorie took over as the director of the museum following Duncan Phillips's death. Marjorie and Duncan had a son named Laughlin Phillips in 1924.

Duncan Phillips studied English at Yale University from 1904-1908. In the years following his graduation he continued his interest in art and collected pieces thanks to a stipend of $10,000 given to him and his brother, Jim Phillips, annually by their father, Duncan Clinch Phillips.

Duncan Phillips eventually gained notoriety as an art critic and published a number of pieces about modern and contemporary art. As founder of America’s first museum of modern art, Duncan Phillips created and maintained relationships with artists, critics, scholars, and other museum directors. These relationships can be seen through this collection. This collection also allows insight into the details of running a museum in the early and mid-twentieth century.


53 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



The Correspondence of Duncan Phillips has been arranged into two series. Series 1 is The Correspondence of Duncan Phillips, it has been arranged alphabetically by name of correspondent. Series 2 is the material that was not digitized, also arranged alphabetically. For access to the non-digitized material contact library staff.

Custodial History

The Correspondence of Duncan Phillips Collection includes primary source material which was stored at The Phillips Collection since the creation of the museum, as well as primary source material that was returned to The Phillips Collection in 2014-2015 from the Archives of American Art. In 1979 former director, and son of Duncan and Marjorie Phillips, Laughlin Phillips (1924-2010), relinquished approximately 45 linear feet of material to the Archives of American Art for safekeeping. The material was reintegrated with the approximately 7 linear feet of correspondence that never left The Phillips Collection. Together, this material became The Correspondence of Duncan Phillips, part of the Directorial Institutional Records.

Directorial Correspondence: The Correspondence of Duncan Phillips 1911-1966
The Phillips Collection Library and Archives 1600 21st Street NW Washington D.C. 20009
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The Phillips Collection Archives Repository

1600 21st St. NW
Washington DC 20009 United States