The Phillips Collection -- in order to raise cash -- is about to rent its finest works of art to other art museums.
Pierre Renoir's grandest oil, "The Luncheon of the Boating Party," Thomas Eakins' "Miss Van Buren," Paul Cezanne's self-portrait and six dozen other pictures -- by Matisse and Picasso, Goya and El Greco, Mondrian and Monet, Pollock and De Kooning -- will leave Washington in June for an 18-month, four-city U.S. tour.
Laughlin Phillips, the director, said yesterday that he expects the rentals will bring to his museum "at least $300,000, and perhaps much more." He said the tour will also help prepare the ground for a multimillion-dollar fund-raising campaign.
The touring show -- "Impressionism and the Modern Vision: Master Paintings from the Phillips Collection" -- will open July 4 in San Francisco and then travel to Dallas, Minneapolis and Atlanta.
Each of these museums will pay the Phillips at least $75,000 in exchange for the exhibit. In addition, BATUS Inc., a newly formed American holding company, will contribute a lump sum $330,000 to defray the costs of crating, shipping and insurance, "BATUS will pay $25,000 to restore the pictures to ready them for travel," said Phillips. The show, he said, will be insured for $40 million.
(BATUS Inc., is the American arm of B.A.T. Industries Ltd., the private British firm that owns, among many other companies, Saks Fifth Avenue, Gimbels and the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., which produces Kool, Viceroy, Raleigh and Belair cigarettes and Sir Walter Raleigh Pipe Tobacco.)
Laughlin Phillips, describes the arrangement as "an innovative threeway collaboration."
"You have the Phillips sacrificing, but expecting much," he said. "Then you have the sponsor investing in good will. BATUS is a newly formed American company; they want people to know their name and, frankly, they want to associate themselves with quality. Then there is the support of the participating museums. Most of them will charge admission. They will also sell catalogues and posters. They've agreed to give us the first $50,000 of their profits, and half of any other monies they take in."
The Phillips was America's first museum of modern art. It was opened to the public 60 years ago by the late Duncan Phillips, Laughlin Phillips' father. "My father died in 1966. He left an endowment of $3 million, which then earned about 90 percent of our operating expenses," said Phillips. "Endowment income nowadays provides less than half."
The Phillips has a staff of 30 and an annual operating budget of about $500,000. Annual deficits recently have been averaging $150,000. However, thanks to gifts from Marjorie Phillips, the widow of the founder, the museum is not in debt.
Nor will its walls be stripped. Of the 2,000 works of art in its collection, only some 250 are on on view at any one time.
"We are sending out four paintings by Bonnard," said Phillips, "but we have 11 more. We are lending only one Paul Klee from the Klee room. One Milton Avery will travel, but we have 10 left. Of the 2,000 works we own, many aren't so great. Hundreds of them -- they're mostly minor works by mostly minor artists -- come from what my father called his 'encouragement' collection. Still, we have in storage hundreds of museum-quality pictures that we rarely show."
The Phillips has been given a $25,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, which will be used to mount small one-man shows drawn from the collection. These room-sized exhibitions -- devoted to such artists as Karl Knaths, John Marin and Louis Eilshemius -- will help fill the gaps left by the paintings that will travel. Large temporary shows -- including one containing all the Arthur Doves that Duncan Phillips owned, and perhaps another of the late paintings of Georges Brague -- also will be mounted while the "Master Paintings" tour.
Phillips said yesterday that fund-raising benefits will be held in each of the four cities that are now on the tour. "There is a chance," he added, "that the tour will be extended. We've been in contract with the Grand Palais in Paris and the Royal Academy in London, but European showings have not yet been set."
Phillips points out that his museum at 1600 21st St. NW -- it was once his parents' home -- is still heated by steam radiators. In the summer it is cooled by window air-conditioning units. The building is in need of new climate control and new storage facilities, and many of its pictures require restoration. A "Council of the Phillips Collection," whose members include such well-known figures as Henry Kissinger and Joseph Califano, was formed last year to help the museum raise money.
The 75 pictures that will tour include oils by Gauguin, Chardin, Delacroix, Ingres, Hopper, Morris Louis, Rothko, Ryder, O'Keeffe, Marjorie Phillips and Van Gogh. They will remain on view through the end of May, "We've marked all their labels," Phillips said, "and we hope that Washingtonians will drop by to see them one last time before they go on tour."