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Augustus Vincent Tack: Landscape of the Spirit exhibition records

Identifier: IR-CUR-022

Scope and Contents

This exhibition and its catalogue document Tack's aesthetic development, unique aspects of his technique and his sources of inspiration. Leslie Furth states in the catalogue that, Tack's artistic direction is thought to have paralleled, but remained independent of, the avant-garde. His "abstract mysticism and technical innovation," his passion for color and decorative surface effects, for Asian art and for parallels between music and art, all paved the way for his abstraction. His religious upbringing and Jesuit education, as well as the “accidents of nature” that he observed in the landscapes of Massachusetts and the American West, informed his art. He also used photography to experiment with fragmentation of form.

John La Farge and Henry Siddons Mowbray were strong influences, as were the aesthetic movement and the idealistic naturalism of the American Renaissance movement. Tack applied methods learned from his exposure to these artists and movements in painting both his murals and his abstractions.

Beginning in 1897, Tack lived in Deerfield, Massachusetts and his early landscapes painted there show the beginnings of his interest in abstraction. It was also in Deerfield that he met Mary and Frances Allen, tonalist photographers who provided a stimulus to Tack in his approach to the local scenery.

Although he did not like New York City, Tack maintained a studio there. He joined the Architectural League and the Century Association and signed a contract with the Kraushaar Galleries. As Leslie Furth states, his work began to move from “perceptual observation of a landscape to more fanciful decorative evocations of nature and the human figure.” Tack stated that he sought to “be able to exert a great power over the mind and the emotions without any resort to literary associations.” Tack's deepening interest in Asian art led him to new concepts of landscape painting. Duncan Phillips, who was drawn to his abstractions, encouraged his progress toward abstractionism.

Tack's shift in style required new techniques and he began to work with unblended pigments and to use heavy impasto. Duncan Phillips described these explorations as “a semi-sculptural mosaic of pure pigments calculated to illuminate dark churches... baffling in its difficulties.” Tack travelled to France during this period, and his technique showed the influence of French impressionism, pointillism, and symbolism.

In his later work, as Ms. Furth wrote, Tack:

"sought a truly abstract language of forms and the removal, or minimizing, of the artist's hand, he borrowed from traditional mural painting methods. He seemed aware that his abstractions never lost touch with nature and its suggestion of divine forces at work. In highly original applications of ancient methods and disparate styles, he united tradition and modernism in a striking manner.”

Tack's visit to the Rocky Mountains in 1920 deeply affected his approach to painting. He told his art dealer “I have been developing some compositions of form and colors based on essential rhythm... they are abstractly decorative at the same time as combining a deep mystical meaning.” In 1924, his western paintings were the focus of Tack's first solo exhibition at The Phillips Collection, inaugurating the lower library (now called the Music Room) for public exhibitions.

Tack's later work continued to build on the imagery of the Music Room works until well into the 1930s and even into the 1940s. The final monumental mural work of his career was the fire curtain he created for George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium, a commission that he won with the assistance of Duncan Phillips. The work was extremely difficult due to its size and location. A near-fatal heart attack caused Tack to return to Massachusetts and leave its completion to his assistant, Carl Lella.

Phillips's collecting of Tack works slowed in the 1930s, but he still supported him, arranging gifts of Tack paintings to other institutions, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 1949 Phillips hosted an exhibition of Tack's work that Tack visited shortly before his death. He wrote to Phillips, “I can only make a feeble effort to express to you my appreciation of your recognition... You have been a very great friend.” In bequeathing the paintings remaining in his possession to Phillips, Tack entrusted Phillips with their disposition to other museums and galleries; Phillips placed works at the Brooklyn Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and others.

The exhibition opened at The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. on May 22, 1993 and continued through August 22, 1993. It then traveled to eight other venues: The Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery in Lincoln, Nebraska from November 2, 1993 through January 16, 1994; the Laguna Art Museum in Laguna Beach, California from February 25 through May 8, 1994; Telfair Academy in Savannah, Georgia from May 31 through August 7, 1994; Davenport Museum of Art in Davenport, Iowa from September 4 through November 6, 1994; Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery in Austin, Texas from January 20 through March 5, 1995; the Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach, Florida from March 17 through April 16, 1995; the Hubert Johnson Museum of Art in Ithaca, New York from August 19 through October 22, 1995; and finally a later exhibition at the Morris Museum in Augusta, Georgia from August 4 through October 26, 1998.

The primary creator of the catalogue and exhibition planning records in this collection was Leslie Furth, guest curator.

The collection consists of the research, catalogue, and exhibition planning files of the curator. These records consist of research materials assembled, as well as catalogue and exhibition planning and execution documents such as legal and financial records, correspondence, loan requests and responses, schedules, and installation design and checklists.


  • 1859 - 1998
  • Usage: The material in this collection were used in preparation for the 1993 exhibition.


Conditions Governing Access

This collection includes restricted material.

Biographical / Historical

Augustus Vincent Tack's contribution to art has been only partially explored and understood, as Leslie Furth states in her catalogue essay, A Mystic’s Journey to Abstraction. This is due partly to the fact that so much of Tack's work is owned by the Phillips Collection, having been bought or commissioned by Duncan Phillips and bequeathed by Tack's widow to the museum. Tack did not fit easily into the modernist movement, preferring to travel his own path. The exhibition Augustus Vincent Tack: Landscape of the Spirit provided information about Tack's development and his contribution to the rise of modern American abstract painting. Duncan Phillips was an early admirer of Tack and they soon became friends. Phillips made Tack vicepresident of the first board of trustees of The Phillips Collection and sought his advice in developing the museum.


5.84 Linear Feet (14 full legal boxes)

Language of Materials



Augustus Vincent Tack: Landscape of the Spirit exhibition records contain materials created and collected by the Curatorial Department, The Phillips Collection, during the course of organizing the exhibition which explored Tack‟s progression towards abstractionism. Included are research files and catalogue and exhibition planning and design files.


The collection is organized as three series: Series 1: Research Series 2: Catalogue Planning Series 3: Exhibition Planning The research material is divided into three sub-series, Chronological Research, General Research and Object Research. The curator's original chronological (for Chronological Research) and alphabetical arrangements (for General and Object Research) were preserved. Documents within folders are arranged chronologically with the oldest documents in front to the most recent in the back of each folder. The Research Series is comprised of eleven document boxes.

The catalogue material is in one series. Folders are arranged alphabetically. Documents within folders are arranged chronologically with the oldest document in front to the most recent in the back of each folder. The Catalogue Planning Series is comprised of one document box.

The exhibition material is divided into two sub-series; General Exhibition Planning and Traveling Exhibitions Files. Folders are arranged alphabetically in both sub-series. Documents within folders are arranged chronologically with the oldest document in front to the most recent in the back of each folder. The Exhibition Planning Series is comprised of two document boxes.

Custodial History

This collection is owned by The Phillips Collection, and was accessioned from the curators' offices.

Processing Information

After an initial survey of the collection, some duplicate materials were identified and a number of documents were identified as of no future reference value for the collection. In further discussions between the librarian and the processor, approval was given to weed duplicate documents (retaining those with handwritten notes), photocopy documentation and housekeeping documents. Duplicates and/or drafts of contracts were weeded. Boxes and folders containing restricted materials were marked with a red dot (see note above regarding "Restrictions").

The original alphabetical arrangement of the research, catalogue and exhibition files was maintained, with the exception of the Chronological Research files. Folder headings were maintained where possible, but, for greater clarity and accuracy, most were re-written or created in the absence of headings on the original file folders. Metal paperclips were removed and replaced with plastic clips. There were many adhesive Post-it® notes, sometimes in layers, which were removed and copied; the copies are clipped to the front of the original document. All documents were re-foldered in acid-free folders.

Augustus Vincent Tack: Landscape of the Spirit exhibition records, 1859-1998
The Phillips Collection Library and Archives 1600 21st Street NW Washington D.C. 20009
Valerie Vanden Bossche, Volunteer, supervised by Karen Schneider, Librarian
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