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"Degas to Matisse: Impressionist and Modern Masterworks from the Detroit Institute of Arts September 23 through January 21, 2001 FUTURE . . . Wayne Thiebaud: A Paintings Retrospective Fe"
2000-09-23 until 2001-01-21
Phillips Collection
Washington, DC, USA

This special loan exhibition of 19th and 20th century modern masterpieces is drawn from The Robert Tannahill Collection at The Detroit Institute of Arts. It features 58 paintings, sculp-tures, and works on paper by such artists as Paul CÚzanne, Vincent van Gogh, Georges Seurat, Constantin Brancusi, Henri Matisse, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Pablo Picasso, and Paul Gauguin.

By integrating works from The Phillips Collection into the Tannahill exhibition, Degas to Matisse: Impressionist and Modern Masterworks from The Detroit Institute of Arts highlights the similarities and the differences in the selections made by Robert Tannahill and his contemporary Duncan Phillips. It also provides a rare opportunity for the public to see the collecting tastes of two influential collectors who championed modern art in America in the early 20th century.

Born in Detroit, Robert Tannahill (1893-1967) was first exposed to collecting by his mother who had a passion for American decorative arts. He was the only child of wealthy parents and inherited his parents' fortune in the J.L. Hudson department store. With his financial security ensured by the mid-1920s, Tannahill began to build a collection that few of his contemporaries would be able to match in quality and scope. Between 1930 and 1939, he acquired 64 works of art, many of which are today considered modern masterpieces and are on view in this exhibition. During this sustained buying period, Tannahill also became involved with The Detroit Institute of Arts, first as a trustee, then as a member of its Arts Commission. He chaired a group called the Friends of Modern Art, which sought to build a collection of modern art at The Detroit Institute of Arts by donating at least one work per year. In 1935, Tannahill demonstrated his continued commitment to contemporary art by helping to create the Detroit Committee of the Museum of Modern Art, dedicated to promoting interest in modern art in areas other than New York. From the 1940s to the 1960s, Tannahill continued to build his private collection but at a slower pace. He never ceased to act as a public benefactor, giving over 450 objects to The Detroit Institute of Arts during his lifetime. When he died, he left almost all of his property and his entire private art collection of more than 400 objects to his hometown museum.

Duncan Phillips (1886-1966) came from a similarly privileged background. Born in the industrial city of Pittsburgh, his maternal grandfather was a banker and the cofounder of the Jones and Laughlin Steel Company, and his father founded a company that manufactured glass. While Duncan and his older brother James began collecting in the mid-teens, it was not until he lost his father and brother in 1917-18 that Duncan decided to found a museum of modern art in their memory. Over the next three years, he purchased more than 230 works and added to his family's Washington, D.C. home a second-floor gallery, which opened to the public in 1921. The museum continued to grow over Phillips' lifetime and has maintained its place as the first museum of modern art in our country. When Phillips died, he had acquired more than 1800 objects for his public collection.

Tannahill and Phillips shared an innovative spirit, an extraordinary eye, and the eagerness to acquire and live with works of art that ran counter to conventional tastes. The installation offers the unprecedented opportunity to trace the evolution of their individual tastes, to explore the parallels and disparities in the collections they formed, and to discover a dialogue between the paintings they favored. Neither collector sought to create an encyclopedic collection, but rather to bring together works that moved them, and to make these works accessible to the public. For both men, the aesthetic experience was primary. They acquired deep holdings of French Impressionist and modern works from 19th century artists such as Degas, CÚzanne, and Renoir to 20th century works by Picasso, Rousseau, Soutine, and Matisse. The two collectors also shared a passion for the work of Paul Klee at a time when few of their contemporaries were interested in the artist, and they were united by acquisitions of works by American artists John Marin, Morris Graves, and Charles Demuth.

As the exhibition provides insight into the personal aesthetic that shaped the choices made by Tannahill and Phillips, it also reveals the differences in their collecting interests. Tannahill was drawn more to portraits and figures and his choices focus more on line and form. Phillips, in contrast, generally favored landscapes and interiors and leaned towards works with an emphasis on color. Tannahill did not actively embrace nonrepresentational art in his collection, while Phillips was more receptive to acquiring abstract work. In the end, although their stories are different and they may never have met, they pursued the same goal-to educate the public about modern art.

Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
Coffee (1916)
Oil on canvas
Bequest of Robert H. Tannahill
The Detroit Institute of Arts

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