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Gauguin to Picasso: Masterworks from Switzerland

The Staechelin & Im Obersteg Collections


$12 for adults; $10 for students as well as visitors 62 and over; free for members and visitors 18 and under. 

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Three Collectors

These impressive masterworks from Switzerland find their counterparts in the intimate galleries of The Phillips Collection, where founder Duncan Phillips, a contemporary of Rudolf Staechelin and Karl Im Obersteg, followed similar collecting practices. All three bought works they liked, often going against popular taste, and in the process formed valuable relationships within the arts community. They championed the work of their countrymen while also embracing an international scope.

Like Rudolf Staechelin, Phillips’s associations with dealers brought to the collection major works by important European painters from the 19th and 20th centuries such as Paul Cézanne, Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, and Pierre-August Renoir. Staechelin’s and Phillips’s collections are visually linked through their complementary examples of still life by Cézanne, impressions of the Normandy coast by Monet, vivid landscapes by van Gogh, and figurative work by Pablo Picasso, which Karl Im Obersteg also collected.

Karl Im Obersteg and Phillips both made many personal connections to artists. Im Obersteg exchanged numerous letters with Russian-born painter Alexej von Jawlensky. For decades, Im Obersteg provided Jawlensky with emotional support and financial assistance through exhibition opportunities and acquisitions, amassing 30 of his works. Jawlensky often thanked him with the gift of a painting and expressed his gratitude in letters: “My dear, good friend you must know, I am always more than grateful to you.” Im Obersteg also frequently corresponded with Chagall, acting as patron, dealer, exhibition organizer, and friend for more than 30 years.

Duncan Phillips’s encouragement of living artists was vital to his support of modern art. Phillips cited his discovery of American Modernist Arthur Dove as a landmark moment in his evolution as a critic and a museum director. Artist and patron regularly corresponded, with Dove receiving a monthly stipend from Phillips who had right of first selection. The museum now possesses the largest collection of Dove’s art. In his last letter to Phillips, Dove expressed: “I realize that your backing has saved it for me and I want to thank you with all my heart and soul for what you have done.” Taken with the colorful paintings of Pierre Bonnard, Phillips presented Bonnard’s first US solo show and later acquired one of the largest and most diverse collections of his art in this country. Bonnard visited the museum in 1926 and later recalled: “I often think of my delightful time with you in Washington.” Although he never met Georges Rouault or Chaïm Soutine, Phillips collected their work in-depth and offered both artists their first solo museum show in the US.

While similarities and differences can be drawn among and between Staechelin, Im Obersteg, and Phillips, their passion for the art of their time was a unifying, shared purpose, an important element that shaped this history of collecting.

A complementary installation of work acquired by Duncan Phillips is also on view, allowing for “conversations” among these three internationally renowned collections.

Exhibition Support

Generous funding is provided by the Rudolf Staechelin Family Trust as well as Sotheby’s and the Robert Lehman Foundation. 

 Robert Lehman Foundation

With significant contributions from Les Dialogues de l’Art, Basel

Les Dialogues de l’Art, Basel
Brought to you by the Exhibition Committee for Gauguin to Picasso: Masterworks from Switzerland: Joan and Dan Mulcahy and Harold and Nancy Zirkin.
The exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.
Additional support is provided by

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