Art Worth Paying For?

In The Art of Travel, 10. The Art of Place, Washington DC by Sonia1 Comment

Earlier this semester, NYU took some students on a trip to the Phillips Collection. Duncan and Jim Phillips began collecting art with allowances from their parents. Soon after they began their collection, Jim and their father died. Duncan and his mother then decided to open a museum with their art as a memorial to them. Now, the Phillips Collection is still housed in the same Dupont neighborhood and is a wonderful collection of diverse and beautiful art. It is, however, one of the few museums in DC that is not free.

I haven’t had much time to go see art this semester but in the past I have visited all of the Smithsonian Museums at some point. But the Phillips Collection definitely felt more intimate than any of the Smithsonians. It was also interesting to think about it as a collection from an actual family who displayed the art in their own home. Although now the art is curated by a director that isn’t necessarily part of the family. The building that houses the art is quite beautiful and I think that adds to the collection itself.

The piece that is shown as my featured photo for this post is what we spent the most time looking at while at the Phillips Collection. Our tour guide explained that it is the most viewed piece and something that draws people to this museum even though it charges an entry fee.

The piece, painted by Renoir, depicts a regular luncheon. However, the guide pointed out how some of the people in the picture were meant to be distinct from others. Some things that set the people in the piece apart are the different hats and different clothing. There are those wearing straw hats, a few caps, and then one top hat. Each woman is also wearing a unique hat. The women in the center left that is wearing a straw hat is meant to be the hostess of the venue. Something unique about this piece is also that almost each person depicted is identifiable as an actual person. The guide also explained that the last piece that Renoir added to the picture was the red and white striped covering.

The scene seems like a quaint summer or spring afternoon. I appreciate the amount of detail that the painter included. One of the things that I found interesting about this piece is that no two people are looking at each other, everyone is looking in different directions.

While this painting is not depicting a scene in Washington DC and it was painted over a hundred years ago, the themes Renoir included are still relevant today. Although clothing today doesn’t always give away your income levels, in DC it’s pretty evident who is in politics or in a professional sphere rather than those working lower level jobs. Men who work in think tanks or the government or men who have some level of influence often wear suits. Women of the same are also business-dressed. I think the theme of all of the people looking at others and not looking anyone in the eye is relevant more broadly in the sense that many people don’t really connect with each other on a deeper level at the same way they used to. I’d say a great project would be for a graphic designer or another artist to take this piece and add in cell phones and slightly adjust each person’s gaze, which already isn’t looking anyone in the eye, and have them focus on a phone.

I didn’t get a chance to really explore the Phillips Collection but I really enjoyed the art we did see and I hope to have time to go check it out in depth sometime in the future.

(Image: Luncheon of the Boating Party; Source: The Phillips Collection)


  1. Hi Sonia! It’s interesting that you mention that the museum is not free. I love going to museums, but it’s frustrating when they are expensive, especially when you want to visit multiple museums in one trip. In Florence, the state museums are only free on the first Sunday of the month, and the lines usually get extremely long. Going to London and seeing all the museums for free was such a nice change, since museum tickets can add up pretty quickly. I’ve begun to focus on certain museums and just spend a lot of time there really appreciating everything there is to see instead of trying to hit all of them in one city.

Leave a Comment