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American Impressionism: Paintings from The Phillips Collection exhibition records

Identifier: IR-CUR-035

Scope and Contents

Curatorial records in this record group document the research, accompanying catalogue, and planning and activities of staff during 2005 to 2010 for the exhibition entitled American Impressionism: Paintings from The Phillips Collection, assembled by Susan Behrends Frank, Assistant Curator, under the directorship of Jay Gates. Organized by The Phillips Collection, the show opened at the museum on June 16, 2007, and remained on view through September 16, 2007.

The exhibit then travelled to seven other cities between the fall of 2007 and early 2010, providing outreach to community venues across the country. A national tour of American Impressionism was made possible by the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA), as part of their “American Masterpieces: Three Centuries of Artist Genius” program. Additional support for the exhibition was provided by the Phillips Contemporaries and Lockheed Martin, the 2006- 2007 season sponsor of The Phillips Collection.

The exhibition highlighted the beginning of America’s love affair with impressionism with a view of the American artists that Phillips championed. In addition to showcasing works by first-generation “mature” masters of the style such as Childe Hassam, Theodore Robinson, John Henry Twachtman, J. Alden Weir, and William Lathrop, there were paintings by Ernest Lawson, Maurice Prendergast, Gifford Beal, Helen Turner, and others. Focused largely on landscape painting, the exhibition included some of the most treasured paintings from the museum’s earliest days. Phillips was fascinated by the painters’ personal response to the native landscape of familiar places and most of the works were painted in Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, eastern Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts, the epicenter of American impressionism. The show’s wall text, which incorporated historical photographic images and a map, provided the viewer with information on the various art colonies where these artists lived and worked, particularly during the summer months, places such as the Weir family farm in Branchville (Connecticut), and colonies in Old Lyme (Connecticut), Cornish (New Hampshire), New Hope (Pennsylvania), and Gloucester (Massachusetts), and Long Island at Southampton (New York). This aspect of the show, complemented by the research files found in series 1 of this record group, may be among the most valuable scholarly resources for the user.

Promotional materials for the exhibition featured Gifford Beal’s painting On the Hudson at Newburgh (1918), first discovered in 1999 by Phillips conservators to be hidden beneath the canvas of another Beal work entitled Parade of Elephants (1924) that Duncan Phillips acquired in 1924. Considered a “signature image” by curator Frank, it was among the show’s few paintings portraying urban subjects and modern life. Documentation about this painting’s discovery can be found in subseries 3.1under public programs and press clippings, and in the research file (subseries 1.2) for Beal. The show also showcased the work of a less well know artist, Allen Tucker, whose paintings Red Barns and The Rise were acquired by Duncan Phillips in 1926-1927, admired for their robust brushstrokes, at a time when Phillips had sought to add an original van Gogh to his growing collection.


  • 1892 - 2010
  • Usage: The materials in this collection were used in preparation for the 2007 exhibition.


Conditions Governing Access

This collection contains restricted materials which are omitted from this finding aid. For a complete folder list request the in-house finding aid, available onsite.

Biographical / Historical

In honor of the eighty-fifth anniversary of The Phillips Collection, an exhibition that had been two years in the making, American Impressionism: Paintings from The Phillips Collection, opened at the museum in 2007, and was followed by an extensive national tour. Comprised of paintings within the museum’s permanent collection from the golden age of American impressionism, ca. 1880-1920, the show had a direct link with the ten years that founder Duncan Phillips (1886- 1966) began his collecting: the decade between 1912 and 1922, when he assembled an impressive collection of American impressionist paintings.

Duncan Phillips was one of the early collectors of American impressionism, beginning with his acquisition of Ernest Lawson’s High Bridge Early Moon in 1912. He acquired a significant number of the paintings during the lifetimes of these artists, who were often his contemporaries, and he often forged friendships with them as evidenced in his correspondence and writings. Phillips considered John Henry Twachtman one of America’s greatest artists, and regarded the painting Summer as one of his best purchases of 1919, outranking all others. By the fall of 1921, Phillips’s collection included 237 paintings, of which 87 works by 25 different artists were examples of American impressionism. These works of American impressionists represent the first phase of Phillips’s collection and helped to form the foundation of the museum and significantly shape its development. They played a vital role in Phillips’s maturing appreciation of abstraction, as he added very few American impressionist paintings to his collection after 1923.

When the exhibition American Impressionism opened in 2007, it was the first time in more than a generation that the museum had assembled such a large display of American impressionist works from its holdings. In 1981, in celebration of its sixtieth anniversary, the museum held the first in a series of four exhibitions that highlighted the works of American artists within the museum’s permanent collection. Funded in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, the exhibition entitled Appreciations: The American Impressionists at The Phillips Collection was organized by James McLaughlin (See: box 6 folder 9), and traveled during 1982 in a reduced version. Each of these shows was comprised of works acquired by Phillips, supplemented by later museum acquisitions, and served to highlight the success of Duncan Phillips’s early mission to lift American art out of obscurity.


5.84 Linear Feet (14 full legal boxes )

Language of Materials



American Impressionism: Paintings from The Phillips Collection (2007) exhibition records contain materials created and collected by the Curatorial Department, The Phillips Collection, during the course of organizing and implementing the exhibition and the national tour that followed. Included are research, catalogue, and exhibition files.


The collection is organized into three major series. Two of the series are divided into subseries, with the arrangement described in detail in the series descriptions.

Series 1: Research, 1888-2002 (boxes 1-6; 2.4 linear ft.)

Series 2: Catalogue Planning, 1997-2001 (box 6; .3 linear ft.)

Series 3: Exhibition Planning and Implementation, 1991-2002 (boxes 7-14; 3.3 linear ft.)

Custodial History

This collection is owned by The Phillips Collection, and was accessioned from the curatorial department during 2011-2012 in accordance with the museum’s records schedule.

Processing Information

Records have been fully processed with metal fasteners removed, clippings and adhesive notes photocopied if necessary, and all documents re-housed into acid free folders. Approval was given by the librarian to weed any duplicate documents, retaining those with hand-written annotations, and to discard two damaged diskettes of digital images. Folder headings were maintained when possible. Portions of the folder contents were artificially arranged for ease of access and use. Level of Description: Records are described at the folder level.

American Impressionism: Paintings from The Phillips Collection exhibition records
The Phillips Collection Library and Archives 1600 21st Street NW Washington D.C. 20009
Colleen Hennessey, Archives Assistant, supervised by Karen Schneider, Librarian
November 2012 – January 2013
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