The first museum of modern art in the country, the masterpiece-filled Phillips Collection is unique in origin and content. It opened in 1921 in the Georgian Revival mansion of collector Duncan Phillips, who wanted to showcase his art in a museum that would stand as a memorial to his father and brother. Having no interest in a painting's market value or its faddishness, Phillips searched for pieces that impressed him as outstanding products of a particular artist's unique vision. At the heart of the collection are impressionist and modern masterpieces by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, Pablo Picasso, Paul Klee, Pierre Bonnard, and Henri Matisse. By combining works of different nationalities and periods in displays that change frequently, the Phillips makes for a museum-going experience that is as intimate as it is inspiring. The domestic scale and personal atmosphere encourage visual conversations among the works.
collection's most famous piece is Renoir's magnificent work of impressionism, Luncheon of the Boating Party. Other celebrity works include Degas's Dancers at the Barre, van Gogh's Entrance to the Public Gardens at Arles.
The chapel-like Rothko Room emerged when modern master Mark Rothko said he preferred to exhibit in intimately scaled rooms; Phillips designed the gallery specifically for him.
Jacob Lawrence's epic Migration Series portrays the mass movement of African Americans from the rural South to the industrial North beginning in World War I.
On Thursday, the Phillips is open until 8:30 pm and, on the first Thursday of the month, Phillips after 5 ($12) combines live music, gallery talks, food, and a cash bar. Reservations are strongly advised.
Music at the Phillips, a tradition since 1941, is a concert series held on Sunday at 4 from October through May in the oak-paneled music room. Tickets are $30 and include museum admission that day. Reservations are recommended.
Take a break in Tryst at the Phillips café, overlooking the museum courtyard.
Spotlight Talks, 15 minutes long and focusing on one artwork, are offered Tuesday to Friday at noon. Tours are also offered at noon on Saturday (an introduction to the permanent collection) and 1 on Sunday (special exhibitions). Tours are unreserved and included in admission.
Download the Phillips's free app (using the museum's free public Wi-Fi) to learn more about the works.