Side by Side

Oberlin's Masterworks at the Phillips

September 11, 2010 - January 16, 2011

Exhibition images

Side by Side: Oberlin's Masterworks at the Phillips combines masterworks from the collections of the Allen Memorial Art Museum and The Phillips Collection. The 25 works on loan from Oberlin date from the 16th to the 20th centuries, and include stellar works by artists of the British, Dutch, Flemish, French, German, Italian, and Spanish schools. Highlights include Hendrick ter Brugghen's Saint Sebastian Tended by Irene (1625), one of the most important examples of northern baroque painting in the United States; Rubens's The Finding of Erichthonius (1632–33); and The Fountain of Life, a superb 16th-century painting probably painted in Spain after a work by Jan van Eyck.

The exhibition showcases an unconventional hallmark of The Phillips Collection, the mixing of works of different periods and nationalities in changing installations to reveal new affinities between works of art. This approach reflects the views of museum founder, Duncan Phillips (1886–1966), who saw the history of art as a conversation through the ages among artists and works of art. In his collection of contemporary art, Phillips included several old masters, including Giorgione, El Greco, and Goya, and an early wish list included the names of others.

Going to the heart of Phillips's claim, among Side by Side's loosely themed groupings is one that brings together artists who copied paintings by their predecessors in the Louvre. The Allen's Rubens appears with Luncheon of the Boating Party (1880–81) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, who is known to have copied works by Rubens. In the second half of his career, after abandoning impressionism, Renoir again looked to Rubens for inspiration. Related works in this section of the exhibition are from the Phillips, by Berthe Morisot, Edgar Degas, and Ferdinand-Victor-Eugène Delacroix.

Several works from Oberlin show the world at night: Dovedale by Moonlight (c. 1784–85) by Joseph Wright of Derby, Pier Francesco Mola's Mercury Putting Argus to Sleep (1645–55), and Giuseppe Cesari's The Agony in the Garden(Christ on the Mount of Olives) (1597–98). The moon is the light source in the first two, while Christ's angelic vision illuminates the third. Their silvery gleam is reflected in later paintings in the Phillips, including Arthur Dove's Me and the Moon (1937) and George Inness's Moonlight, Tarpon Springs (1892).

In another group of landscapes, Oberlin's shimmering View of Venice: The Ducal Palace, Dogana and Part of San Giorgio (1841) by Joseph William Mallord Turner, joins one by his rival John Constable, represented in the Phillips by On the River Stour (1834–37). Both artists had a powerful effect on modern landscape painting. Their works hang with paintings by Claude Monet, an artist profoundly influenced by Turner. Oberlin's Garden of the Princess, Louvre (1867) is one of Monet's first views of Paris and represents a much earlier stage in his development than The Road to Vétheuil (1879) and Val-Saint-Nicholas, near Dieppe (Morning) (1897) owned by the Phillips. Other modern landscapes on view in Side by Side include Paul Cézanne's Viaduct at L’ Estaque (1882) from Oberlin and add new dimensions to the rich imagery of the south of France, represented at the Phillips by paintings by Pierre Bonnard and Vincent van Gogh.

A display of self-portraits includes one of the most dramatic works on loan from Oberlin. Self-Portrait as a Soldier (1915) by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner expresses the artist's terror in the face of war. Kirchner wears the uniform of his artillery regiment, his vacant eyes are pupil-less, and his right hand has been amputated. Nearby are the Phillips's rough-looking Cézanne (1878–80) and Oberlin's Michiel Sweerts, in which the artist presents himself as a gentleman (1656).

Outside the Rothko Room hang a trio of historic New York School works from Oberlin, by Adolph Gottlieb, Barnett Newman, and Mark Rothko. Gottlieb's The Rape of Persephone and Rothko's The Syrian Bull, exhibited in 1943 at the Third Annual Exhibition of Modern Painters and Sculptors, were seized on by critic Edward Alden Jewell in the New York Times as examples of incomprehensible recent art. A few days later, Newman helped Gottlieb and Rothko to draft a rebuttal that set the aesthetic and cultural themes for the New York School. In gratitude, Gottlieb and Rothko gave Newman the two paintings.

Exhibition sponsorship

Side by Side: Oberlin’s Masterworks at the Phillips is organized by The Phillips Collection and the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio.