Last night at the Phillips Collection, it was hello and sayonara to the gallery's masterpieces.
The party was billed as an art lover's equivalent of the Redskins victory parade, a welcome back for 75 master paintings, just returned from a triumphant tour of San Francisco, Dallas, Minneapolis, Atlanta and Oklahoma City.
Laughlin Phillips, the head of the museum, said the touring paintings had come back safe and sound with no damage. "They're better than ever because we had them cleaned and restored before they went on the tour. At every stop, conservators packed and unpacked them. There were some tiny bits of damage to the frames which were quickly repaired."
But art lovers will have to look fast. A revised, and perhaps larger, group of paintings will be sent off to the Nihonbashi Takashima Art Galleries in Tokyo from Aug. 18 through Sept. 27 and the Prefectural Museum in Nara from Oct. 4 through Nov. 13.
The tour will be sponsored by Yomiuri Shimbun, the Japanese newspaper. Ninety paintings from the collection, including Renoir's "Luncheon of the Boating Party," and 59 others, also from the recent tour, will go to Japan. Phillips said the tour will earn $200,000 for the museum plus a royalty from the catalogue and a share of the admission prices.
The recent tour raised $750,000 for the financially pinched museum. About a half-million people saw the paintings, more than in five years in Washington.
Last night about 400 Washington civic leaders came to cheer the return of "Luncheon of the Boating Party," El Greco's "Repentant Peter" and Ingres' "Small Bathers," among other paintings.
Marjorie Phillips, cofounder of the museum with her late husband, Duncan, said she had worried about the paintings when they first left the gallery. "But when I went to San Francisco and saw how everyone loved them, I felt better." Marjorie Phillips, now in her mid-eighties, said she had finished two paintings since Christmas. She is well-known for her delicate flower pictures.
The tour's insurance, packing, travel and other expenses were financed by a $330,000 grant from Batus Inc., a holding company which owns Saks Fifth Avenue, Marshall Field and Gimbel's, among others.
If the paintings didn't rate a Redskins-like parade, they did get a proclamation from Mayor Marion Barry. Laughlin Phillips, who said his voice had just come back since he had shouted the Redskins to victory, read the proclamation which declared yesterday "the return of the master paintings day."
Phillips said he thought that was a nice balance to the Redskins furor. Effi Barry, wife of the mayor, didn't make it to the party until after the program was over and the proclamation read. But she said she was glad to see the paintings back and, in answer to the question as to which was more important, the return of the Redskins or the return of the paintings, said diplomatically, "Well, the Redskins are sports and the paintings are art."
The party drew an enthusiastic group, including such Washingtonians as Marvin Patterson, Enid Johnson, Elizabeth Faulkner and City Council member Polly Shackleton. Livingston Biddle, the former arts endowment chairman, said the draft of his new novel, telling all about the Washington establishment and the arts, is with his New York agent. When someone suggested he might make more from people paying him to keep it from being published, he laughed knowingly.
The museum currently is engaged in a capital-funds campaign to help pay for alterations to the building, restoration of the paintings, expansion of the staff and additions to the operating funds.