George Grosz: New York Harbor, 1934.
Watercolor on off-white wove paper.
66.4 x 48.2cm. The Detroit Institute of Arts.
Bequest of Robert H. Tannahill.
Photograph: exhibition catalogue.
Vincent Van Gogh: The Diggers, 1889.
Oil on canvas. 65.1 x 50.2 cm.
The Detroit Institute of Arts.
Bequest of Robert H. Tannahill.
Impressionist and Modern
Masterworks from the collection of Robert
Hudson Tannahill and The Detroit Institute of Arts at The Phillips Collection in
Washington in the exhibition "Degas
to Matisse" until January 21, 2001. Get the catalogue from
or from Amazon.co.uk.
Article added in November 2000
The exhibition's subtitle
comes closest to the real focus of the show: Impressionist and Modern
Masterworks. Provided by the collection of Robert Hudson Tannahill,
The Detroit Institute of Arts. In Washington, the 57 works are presented
within the context of the collection by another passionate art lover,
Duncan Phillips, who
created America's first museum of modern art before Washington's Mall was
lined up with major museums.
Robert Hudson Tannahill
(1893-1969) was born in Detroit as the only child of a wealthy parents.
His maternal family were the founders of the J.L. Hudson department store
where his father was vice-president. From 1911 to 1915, Tannahill attended
the University of Michigan. In 1913, he made his first trip to Europe
where he fell in love with French art. In 1916, he received an M.A. from
Harvard University. 1917-18 he did civilian army service as an interpreter
at a base hospital in France. In 1920, Tannahill made his first purchase
of modern art, the watercolor The Steamer by Emil Nolde. 1920-21
Tannahill wrote four plays and secured copyright for two of them. His
mother died in 1921, his father in 1925. They left him their entire
estates and, thereafter, he received a steady income from J.L. Hudson
stock. In 1927, Tannahill was named a benefactor of the Founders Society
because of his financial support to The Detroit Institute of Arts. Four
years later, he was appointed a trustee of the Detroit institution, a
position he held until his death. He became the chairman of the Friends of
Modern Art who purchased and donated works to the museum. In 1932, Tannahill commissioned Diego Rivera to paint his portrait and helped to
organize an exhibition of the artist's paintings and drawings. The same
year, he exhibited some of his modern paintings at The Detroit Institute
of Arts. It was the only occasion when he allowed his name to be
associated with his collection.
In 1933, he organized the exhibition Paintings
from the Ambroise Vollard Collection. From the exhibition, he acquired
Mont Sainte-Victoire (c. 1904-1906) by Paul Cézanne. The following
year, he worked with Pierre Matisse in New York where he co-organized an
exhibition of works by Henri Matisse and Georges Rouault. He also helped
to organize a show of works by John Marin and Georgia O'Keeffe and
purchased works by both artists. In 1935, Tannahill helped his cousin
Josephine Kanzler start the Detroit Committee of the Museum of Modern Art,
with the goal of promoting modern art outside New York City. A year later,
he organized an exhibition of African art and, in 1940, one of watercolors
and drawings by Pablo Picasso and one of works by Paul Klee. In 1946, Tannahill became the executive secretary of the Founders Society and the
Arts Commission of The Detroit Institute of Arts. Two years later, he
built a new house to showcase his collection. In 1961, he established the
Robert Tannahill Fund to help support his favorite charitable organizations in Detroit. The following year, in poor health, he resigned
from the Arts Commission. In 1966, the American galleries at The Detroit
Institute of Arts officially became the Robert Hudson Tannahill Wing of
American Art. In 1969, Tannahill died of congestive heart failure. A year
later, the exhibition A Collector's Treasure: The Tannahill Bequest
opened. Tannahill was a serious, somewhat retiring figure, whose
collection of 19th- and 20th-century paintings, sculptures and works on
paper forms the core of the modern department at The Detroit Institute of
Arts. His eclectic taste led him to build a collection with objects
ranging from African sculpture through French decorative arts to modern art.
Throughout his lifetime, he had given over 450 objects to The Detroit
Institute of Arts.
Duncan Clinch Phillips (1886-1966)
was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His
grandfather was a banker and the cofounder of the Jones and Laughlin Steel
Company. His father founded a company that manufactured glass. Duncan
Phillips began to collect prior to 1920 when he bought works by Americans
including George Luks, Ernest Lawson and Arthur B. Davies. In 1918, in
response to his brother's death just 13 months after their father had
passed away, he decided to found a museum of modern art in their memory.
Over the next three years, he purchased over 230 works and added a
second-floor room to his family's home in Washington, D.C., which opened
to the public in 1921.
Tannahill and Phillips both bought
Impressionist and modern art works. Cézanne, Picasso, Rouault, Modigliani,
Degas, Matisse and Klee are present in both collections. Tannahill and
Phillips were also united by acquisitions of works by the American artists
John Marin and Charles Demuth. But their taste was not identical. Tannahill gave most of his attention to European works of the early 20th
century, especially French and German. He shared his enthusiasm for German
Expressionism with his friend William R. Valentiner, a German-born art
historian who was a young curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art who
became Director of The Detroit Institute of Arts in the early 1920s.
Although Phillips shared Tannahill's
fascination with European artists, his interest in American modernists
emerged as early as 1921 when he bought a painting by Marsden Hartley.
Five year later, he acquired Georgia O'Keeffe's My Shanty, the
first painting by the artist that entered a museum collection. From the
start an advocate of American art, Phillips was also the first to purchase
and present to the public the work of Milton Avery and Arthur Dove. Other
American artists he collected include Edward Hopper, Arthur B. Davies,
Jacob Lawrence and Albert Pinkham Ryder.
Tannahill was drawn to portraits and
figures. His choices focused more on line and form. Phillips, in contrast,
generally favored landscapes and interiors. He leaned towards works with
an emphasis on color. Neither collector actively embraced
nonrepresentational art, although Phillips was more receptive to abstract
work. As the director of America's first museum of modern art, he was
dedicated to gathering and interpreting the art of his time. He acquired
select works by contemporary artist's such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Philip Guston. The Rothko Room at the Phillips Collection was
the first such presentation of the artist's work by any museum.