During the 1920s, when Duncan Phillips was still forming his collection, he was highly aware of developments taking place at the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Freer Gallery of Art. Phillips exhibited works from his collection at the Corcoran and visited the Freer, where he was particularly interested in the approach to interior decoration.
Duncan Phillips called collector Charles Lang Freer “our inspired predecessor.” Phillips and Freer installed their collections on the basis of visual affinities rather than chronologically or by nationality, and saw all art as universal. Duncan Phillips was also knowledgeable about private collections and helped to organize an exhibition of paintings from private collections in Washington. The exhibition took place in a hall of the National Museum of Natural History.