An enthusiastic promoter of independent artistic voices, the American collector Duncan Phillips opened the first museum of modern art in the United States in 1921 in his family’s elegant home in Washington, DC. Phillips considered his new museum to be an “experiment station,” a place to test the groundbreaking ideas of artists then outside the mainstream, among them Vincent van Gogh. The NCMA is proud to open a special exhibition of works from this monumental museum, A Modern Vision: European Masterworks from The Phillips Collection, on October 8.
Sneak-peek art label from A Modern Vision: European Masterworks from The Phillips Collection:
Van Gogh lived and worked with Paul Gauguin after his arrival at the Yellow House in Arles in October 1888; differences in their temperaments precluded a successful artistic collaboration. That month, Van Gogh was admitted to a mental hospital in Saint-Rémy. On excursions from the hospital in the fall and winter of 1889–90, Van Gogh witnessed the repair of boulevard Mirabeau in Saint-Rémy, a subject that inspired this painting. On December 7, 1889, he wrote to his brother Theo,
“The last study I have done is a view of the village, where they were working under enormous plane trees repairing the pavement. So there are heaps of sand, stones and gigantic trunks—the leaves are yellowing.”
Almost a month later, he wrote that he had two versions of the scene. This later, more finished example, was painted in the studio in December 1889.
Duncan Phillips purchased The Road Menders after having included it in a loan exhibition in the late 1940s and ranked it “among the best Van Goghs.”
Art historian Alexis Clark draws a sharp distinction between two very different artists’ studios, in the same city, four decades apart.