Although he was grounded in the American realist tradition, Rockwell Kent was inspired by nature's grandeur and man's relationship to its monumental forces. His early work greatly appealed to Duncan Phillips. In 1918, the year he began to collect fervently, Phillips championed younger contemporary Americans, and Kent was one of the first. As his plans for the collection developed, Phillips intended to create a Kent unit that would include "a good example of each of...[his] adventures in different parts of the world," and when he projected a new museum building, it was to have included a Rockwell Kent Room. By 1925 Phillips had established a "sustaining fund" for Kent in exchange for a monthly stipend of $300, he would receive first choice of two paintings per year. Phillips kept many artists at a distance, but his friendship with Kent was unusually close, and by 1926 they were on a first-name basis. Shortly thereafter, however, Kent "thought that the Phillips Gallery had acquired about all the Kents it ought to have," and he annulled the 1925 stipend agreement.
In addition to the six oil paintings presently in the Collection, Phillips acquired and then deaccessioned six others, including Father and Son, 1925 (American University, Washington, D.C.), which had been commissioned soon after the birth of his son Laughlin, and Blackhead—Monhegan, n.d. (Colby College, Waterville, Maine), a gift from Kent at the inception of the stipend period. Eventually Phillips's enthusiasm for Kent fell off sharply, as the collector was less impressed with Kent’s repetition of subject and style, calling his later work “stereotyped convention.” Phillips, too, may have become disenchanted with Kent due to the artist’s long and passionate involvement with Soviet communism.