The Phillips Collection owns twenty oil paintings and two pencil drawings by Louis Michel Eilshemius (1864–1941). Duncan Phillips began collecting his work in the late 1920s after the eccentric and long-neglected artist had attracted the attention of the New York avant-garde. Following the lead of Katherine S. Dreier, whose Société Anonyme had given Eilshemius his first major exhibitions in 1920 and 1924, Phillips continued to acquire Eilshemius's works during the next decade, at the same time he was beginning to collect modern art in earnest. Phillips had a genuine appreciation of the artist; for in addition to Eilshemius's appeal as a neglected independent artist, he was a sensitive colorist, and in his romantic interpretation of landscapes and figures, was an heir to several of Phillips's favorite nineteenth-century painters, most notably Corot and Inness.
The first Eilshemius painting to enter the collection was the lyrical landscape Samoa, (1907), which Phillips purchased from the Valentine Gallery in 1927. He immediately hung it alongside the work of Eilshemius's American contemporaries and immediate predecessors, saying "Eilshemius should hang with Homer, Eakins, Ryder to make an American group of four masterpieces of complete originality and freedom from foreign influence." It was not until the next show at the Valentine Gallery in 1932 that Phillips became enthusiastic about collecting Eilshemius's work in depth; he added two intimate studies of women in interiors and a dramatic vignette entitled The Rejected Suitor. The following year he purchased three landscapes from Eilshemius's travel paintings: another Samoan subject, Twilight in Samoa, ca. 1907, an early Adirondack scene depicting the simple delights of childhood, and a souvenir of one of the artist's visits to France.
In 1933, Phillips exhibited these six paintings, the core of his nascent Eilshemius unit, in an exhibition titled "The Freshness of Vision in Painting." In an adjoining gallery, Phillips displayed watercolors by Charles Burchfield. In his catalogue essay, Phillips compared Eilshemius to the "unskilled folk painters of America...unaffectedly, spontaneously simple and naive in manner." At the same time, by showing his work with a successful contemporary artist, Phillips tacitly aligned him with modern expression. He continued to spotlight Eilshemius through the years, with two large loan exhibitions in 1937 and in 1959 and also by lending paintings from the Collection to other museums.
Between 1936 and 1939, Phillips added six more paintings, all landscapes, ranging from picturesque Hudson River views to a dramatic moonlit scene, The Dream. By the 1940s the Eilshemius unit was complete with the addition of three more paintings, among them one of the artist's magical and richly colored city views, New York Roof Tops, 1908.