Stamos's work reflects a complex combination of interests: his Greek heritage, knowledge of universal myth, intense observation of nature, admiration of Oriental philosophy, and a yearning to attain spiritual meaning through art. Duncan Phillips responded in a positive manner to such painters of subjective content and sensitive color. Of the abstract expressionists, Stamos and Rothko were the only ones that he chose to collect as units, an indication of his preference for artists whose works inspired spiritual contemplation.
In the late 1940s, Stamos's work began to receive wide attention. Duncan Phillips was quick to take interest in the young artist, and in 1949 he purchased three biomorphic abstractions: The Sacrifice of Kronos, No. 2, 1948, World Tablet, 1948; and Moon Chalice, 1949. The following year, he gave Stamos his first one-person museum exhibition. Stamos visited Washington for the occasion, staying at the home of the Phillips family. During this visit, Stamos admired in particular the Bonnard paintings Phillips had collected. When he discovered that Phillips owned no works by Rothko, Stamos urged him to consider his friend, and this led to Phillip’s first purchases of the Rothkos in the collection.
A mutually respectful friendship ensued, and Phillips expanded his Stamos collection in 1952 with an oil, The Field, painted the same year. He held another Stamos exhibition in 1954-55 from which he purchased two larger oils, Lupine and Azalea Japonica, both painted in 1953. In his 1952 catalogue, Phillips designated Stamos as one of the contemporary artists he planned to collect as a "unit," hoping to follow his development and acquire, if possible, many aspects of his oeuvre. Although Phillips bought nothing more before his death in 1966, the unit of eight works remains a fine showcase of the painter's early career.
In tandem with the second Phillips exhibition of his work, Stamos delivered a lecture, "Why Nature in Art?," at the museum. In this presentation he praised those American artists who conveyed emotion and spirituality through direct experience with nature, specifically the Hudson River School painters of the nineteenth century, the mystical Albert Ryder and the abstractionists Marsden Hartley and Arthur Dove. (Duncan Phillips often exhibited paintings by Stamos alongside his Doves.) Stamos compared these artists' meditations on nature to the manner in which Oriental artists bonded with nature to create poetic, ethereal images. He named Pollock, Rothko, and Pacific Northwest artists Graves and Tobey as visionaries who possessed a spiritual bond with nature, one that he also sought. Nevertheless, while admiring the Oriental method, Stamos considered himself a painter of the Western tradition. His subject, no matter how far removed from physical reality it might seem, had its origins in images he had absorbed from the real world and actual places.