$1 Million Gift to Aid Phillips Collection Repairs

By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 16, 2007

An anonymous donor has given the Phillips Collection a $1 million gift to cover repairs needed at its original building, which houses the work of some of the world's best-known artists.

The Georgian revival home, built in 1897, has been an art gallery for 86 years and has been updated several times. The most pressing problems are roof replacement, upgrading heating and air-conditioning systems and repairing the exterior red brick. Few private museums have extra money to cover such maintenance expenses, and donors usually are reluctant to underwrite the nuts-and-bolts repairs.

"The house is almost 110 years old. These things are terribly important, but to the casual visitor, not evident," Jay Gates, the museum's retiring director, said yesterday. "This building is the envelope to one of the world's great art collections. We are responsible for that and this gift is thoughtful and generous."

The building, at 21st and P streets NW, has been a destination for art lovers since 1921, when Duncan Phillips decided to share his art collection with the public. Many artists, including Pierre Bonnard, Henri Matisse, Kenneth Noland, Gene Davis and Richard Diebenkorn, visited the house. The collection includes work by Renoir, van Gogh, Degas, Cezanne, Picasso, Monet and O'Keeffe.

Last renovated in 1984, the house has the sort of problems that are expected for a structure of its age, Gates said.

"In 1897 they didn't think of climate control in the same way we do today. And the ravages of time are unavoidable," noted Gates. He emphasized that no leaks have occurred in the exhibition space, but the offices on the top floor (including his own) have had some water intrusions. "It's better to drip on me than a painting," he said.

The Phillips has expanded along 21st Street over the years, with an addition in 1960 that was renovated in 1989 and a new building that opened last year. Gates said upcoming exhibitions would not be disrupted by the repairs, which will continue for four years.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company