"You've got the heavies here tonight," said Maurice Tobin to Laughlin Phillips Saturday night. Phillips, director of the Phillips Collection and host of the dinner to honor the collection's newly formed National Committee, allowed as he had.
He and Tobin, the chairman of the board of the National Theatre, were standing within sight of the Phillips' pride and joy, Renoir's "The Luncheon of the Boating Party." "I am not a covetous man," said Tobin, "but I just drool over that."
As for the "heavies," there was Henry Kissinger, holding court over to the left of El Greco's "The Repentant Peter." And National Gallery director J. Carter Brown, standing with his back to Van Gogh's "Entrance to the Public Garden at Arles." Sir Nicholas Henderson, the British ambassador, who admitted to being "keen on art," stood chatting with Lady Henderson. "I'm a great admirer of this collection," he said. "It's wonderfully well organized."
"I am Mrs. W. R. Hearst," said Mrs. William Randolph Hearst Jr., sans W. R., as she stood, draped in yards of fuchsia and violet. "It's a Madame Gres," she said merrily, looking at her dress. "And its not new. Darling!" she said, spotting a friend."Your Christmas cards are simply beautiful!"
"Here's to trillions," said someone else, raising a champagne glass in the next room, which happened to be chock full of Bonnards. "Trillions for the Phillips."
The museum, faced with the increasing costs of maintaining its art works on the income from a fixed endowment, invited friends, and potential friends, of the collection to come over for cocktails and dinner.Like Duncan Phillips' collection, the guest list was eclectic and colorful -- drawn from Washington, New York and California. The elegantly dressed 120 or so eyed the paintings -- Bonnards, Renoirs, Rouaults, Klees -- and each other. No one promised trillions, or even millions, but that doesn't mean that they won't later.
"I can't draw a line," sighed Joseph Califano, Washington lawyer and former secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, who was chatting with World Bank president Robert McNamara. "So I really appreciate all of this."
They turned to greet the Kennedy Center's Roger Stevens. "I'm afraid I'm not up on this," said Stevens. "I have enough trouble with the performing arts."
Christine Stevens, who was up on it, looked into the Bonnard room and sighed, "If the world were only the way Bonnard painted it, we wouldn't have any problems."
White House lawyer Lloyd Cutler, former NEA chair Nancy Hanks, Washington lawyer Frank Ikard, former senator William Fulbright, Polly Fritchey and John D. Pierrepont were among those who are either on the Council of the Phillips Collection or members of the newly formed National Committee, both of which are involved in the museum's first national fund-raising campaign.
Cocktails gave way to dinner, and the guests trooped downstairs, past the calm, dark-eyed dancers of Manet's "Ballet Espagnole," into the mansion's music room, where the mahogany wainscoting and salmon draperies gleamed in the light of three-tiered silver candelabras. The Rouaults, which hung at intervals around the room, glowed like jewels.
"Tonight, we have invited people . . . who appreciate the collection, and who knew something about our problems," said Laughlin Phillips, looking over his guests, who had just finished their duck in cranberry sauce, wild rice and Brussels sprouts with chestnuts. "For the first time," he continued, "the family realizes that the problems are too great for us to shoulder alone."
Phillips Collection Council member Robert Linowes took the podium. The comfortable after-dinner lethargy was broken by Sen. Claiborne Pell's beeper the back of the room. "Oh my God!" gasped a waiter. "It is Mr. [J. Carter] Brown! He has fallen from his chair!"
Pell left the room with his beeper, and Brown, his recalcitrant chair set aright, appeared unhurt. Things quieted down a bit, and everyone was invited to wander throughout the gallery after dinner, which they did.
Felix Rohatyn, financial whiz down from New York, stood quite alone, contemplating the paintings. "This brings you back to a period where civilization really meant something," he said. "I sort of tend to tune out modern art."
"I like this collection because it shows personal taste rather than a committee's," said Hearst. "Having married into a family where my husband's father collected, I know."
The Phillips is especially valuable, said John Pierrepont, "in this age when great museums have even become a bit vulgar. Look at that Bonnard. Can't you just feel the sun on your back?"
Maurice Tobin was standing near the "Boating Party" again as Laughlin Phillips approached. Someone marveled at the price ($125,000) the painting had fetched the 1923, when Phillips' father, Duncan, bought it.
"I just want to roll it up and take it home with me," said Tobin.
"Yes, well," smiled Laughlin Phillips. "Don't."