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Duncan Phillips


Centurion, 1917–1966

Full Name Duncan Clinch Phillips

Born 26 June 1886 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Died 10 May 1966 in Washington, District of Columbia

Buried Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, District of Columbia

Proposed by Samuel L. Parrish and Augustus Vincent Tack

Elected 2 June 1917 at age thirty

Century Memorial

An art collector of extremely catholic tastes, Duncan Phillips was scornful of all “schools” or “movements” and let himself be guided only by his own great sensitiveness to beauty and the sincerity of an artist. His way of presenting the masterpieces he acquired to the public endeared him, not only to his friends but to the casual visitors to his galleries by its informality. His galleries, built into the house in which he and his wife lived, had the kind of intimate attractive atmosphere that “we associate with a beautiful home.” He wanted visitors to be able to contemplate the works hung there in comfort—a Centurion friend remembers that they were let smoke—and many a stranger felt a sudden sense of hospitality the moment he entered. Even when the collection became greatly extended so that the space it occupied was much enlarged, the “guests,” as he thought of them, forgot that they were visiting one of the truly great museums of the country if not of the world.

In all, there were some fifteen hundred paintings: some were by earlier masters such as Goya, El Greco, Chardin, and Delacroix, but the majority were modern works. He was particularly attentive to American painters like Arthur Dove and others not at all well known. He wanted to encourage the Americans he admired quite without regard to fashions or general popularity.

Duncan Phillips was born in Washington, in 1886, educated at The Washington School for Boys and at Yale from which he graduated in 1908. He began collecting almost immediately. One of his first acquisitions was Renoir’s “The Boating Party.” His gallery at first was in one floor of a brownstone house on Twenty-first Street, N.W. Washington, but as the crowd of visitors grew to 80,000 a year he gave over the whole building to the collection.

He is the author of The Enchantment of Art, The Artist Sees Differently, and The Leadership of Giorgione, also various magazine articles.

He was one of The Century’s senior members, having joined us in 1917.

Roger Burlingame
1967 Century Association Yearbook