Phillips Collection gets three works by Picasso

March 28, 1994|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

At 25 by 20 inches, Picasso's painting "Woman with Green Hat" is scarcely monumental in size, but it is in grandeur and significance. And it is now on display at the Phillips Collection in Washington.

A portrait of Dora Maar, Picasso's model and mistress of the time, the face is so solid that it looks like a piece of sculpture, and the eyes wear a pensive expression as if thinking of something lost. Painted in October 1939, just after the beginning of World War II, the portrait's expression reflects the uncertainty of its time. The work also looks back to an earlier time that Picasso may have wanted to summon.

"The sculptural, masklike face recalls works of 1906 and 1907," the period leading up to the creation of cubism, says Beth Turner, curator at the Phillips. She notes that the peaked hat recalls the cap on a 1905 sculpture, "The Jester," which the Phillips also owns. So, the painting reflects both its time and the first decade of the century, one of the greatest periods of Picasso's creativity.

"Woman with Green Hat" is a stunning addition to the Phillips. It'sone of three Picasso paintings of the 1930s that the Phillips acquired at the end of 1993, a gift of the Carey Walker Foundation, a charitable trust set up by the late collector Herschel Carey Walker.

The others are "Reclining Nude" (1934) and "Still Life with Glass and Fruit" (1939).

At the same time, two important works on paper by the late American artist Richard Diebenkorn were given to the collection by his widow, Phyllis.

"All add significantly to the permanent collection and are major -- works of art," said Phillips director Charles S. Moffett. He did not overstate the case.

The Phillips' superb collection of modern art assembled by Duncan Phillips (1886-1966) is filled with 19th- and 20th-century masterpieces by such artists as Vincent Van Gogh, Edgar Degas, Paul Cezanne, Edouard Vuillard, Henri Matisse, Paul Klee, Winslow Homer, Thomas Eakins and James McNeill Whistler.

The Phillips previously owned 11 works by Picasso, but only three paintings: "The Blue Room" (1901) from the blue period; a late cubist work, "Abstraction, Biarritz" (1918); and "Bullfight" (1934), from the same decade as the three new gifts.

The four 1930s paintings, which now hang in a small room, are significant both to Picasso's work and to other aspects of the collection, says curator Ms. Turner.

"Phillips collected selectively of Picasso," she says. "There were certain aspects that he was willing to marry with his collection. The bullfight is a key subject of modern art."

"Reclining Nude" centers on a partially clothed, distorted figure in a boldly colored and patterned interior. "It has a relationship with the bullfight and its pennants and pageantry," says Ms. Turner, "but it's a wild composition which gives a sense of the virtuosity of Picasso, whose brush never stops. Picasso rearranges the partially nude figure almost like a still life; the breasts appear to be fruit in some ways. The artist improvises with the subject in a way that is so fresh even now."

The still life was a subject that Picasso painted often, but "Still Lifewith Glass and Fruit" is not only related to the artist's own work, Ms. Turner says. The Phillips has a major collection of works by Georges Braque, and the Picasso complements Braque still lifes such as "Lemons and Oysters" (1927) and "Plums, Pears, Nuts and Knife" (1926). In addition, the Phillips owns an early Jackson Pollock still life, "Composition" (about 1938-1941), done during the same period as the Picasso.

Diebenkorn (1922-1993) had a long-standing fondness for the Phillips. As a Marine stationed in the Washington area during World War II, he visited the collection often and was especially influenced by Matisse's "Studio, Quai St. Michel" (1916), which shows a nude in an interior with a view out a window to the right.

In 1957 Duncan Phillips bought Diebenkorn's "Interior with View of the Ocean," which has a large window reminiscent of the Matisse painting, and subsequently other Diebenkorns entered the collection. But until Mrs. Diebenkorn's gift of the two works on paper, the Phillips did not own any works from the "Ocean Park" series of abstractions for which he is perhaps best known.

Shortly before his death, Diebenkorn selected two works from his wife's collection, "Untitled (Ocean Park Drawing)" (1963) and "Untitled (Ocean Park Drawing)" (1971), and indicated his desire that they go to the Phillips.

They now reside in a gallery with three Diebenkorn paintings, including "Interior with View of the Ocean." Just one floor above them, Matisse's "Studio, Quai St. Michel" is on view. Visitors to the Phillips can easily see the relationship between the Matisse, the earlier Diebenkorn painting and the two Ocean Park drawings and conclude that the drawings have indeed come to rest in the right place.

What: Three paintings by Picasso and two works on paper by Diebenkorn

Where: The Phillips Collection, 1600 21st St. N.W., Washington

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays; noon to 7 p.m. Sundays

Admission: $6.50 adults, $3.25 students and seniors, free to people 18 and under; admission required on weekends, suggested weekdays

Call: (202) 387-2151

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