In the drawing rooms of Foxhall Road, the elegant sip from glasses as delicate as the white wine, admire their Klees and worry about Dunmarlin, Duncan and Marjorie Phillips' 16.2-acre estate. This country road is the address of many of the capital's proudest householders, including connoisseurs David Lloyd and Carmen Kreeger; former ambassador William McCormick Blair Jr.; medical foundation official Deeda Blair; and philanthropist Gwen Cafritz.
A couple of weeks ago Dunmarlin was bought -- for the second time since Mrs. Phillips' death -- for a record $13 million by Raha III, an investment corporation owned by Saudi Arabian businessman Rafik Hariri. And in the next few days, Rafic A. Bizri, Raha III's president, will meet with the august neighbors to try to reassure them as to the fate of the 1929 mansion, which was designed by Nathan Wyeth.
Its future will have to go some to be as interesting as its past. For more than 50 years, the Phillips Collection founders held forth here at the capital's longest running art salon. Dunmarlin (named for Duncan, Marjorie and their son Laughlin) was the 1986 National Symphony's Decorators Showhouse.
After Marjorie Phillips' death at 90, two years and two days ago, most of the house's fine paintings, including the Pablo Picasso over the sideboard and the Pierre Bonnard over the fireplace, went to the Phillips Collection, the museum housed in the original family residence on 21st Street.
Mrs. Phillips once said, "For years, when anyone came to lunch, we'd borrow a picture from the gallery that we thought they'd particularly like."
The story that she used to borrow its most famous Renoir, "Luncheon of the Boating Party," for her own luncheons is unfortunately apocryphal, according to Laughlin Phillips, who succeeded his mother as director of the collection. He does admit, though, that before insurance regulations became a problem, paintings did circulate between the collection and the house.
"My father was interested in trying out new hanging combinations," he says. "The paintings they bought for the collection from the dealers were tried out first in the drawing room or dining room. The pictures had to pass being lived with. A good test, in competitive surroundings.
"Lunch was their entertainment of choice, a salon atmosphere. My father also was deeply interested in international politics, almost idealistic on the subject. Political columnists Walter Lippmann and Mark Childs, and former senator Bill Fulbright, would come. Of course, there were lots of British visitors such as Kenneth Clark. I remember Blunkett was the perfect butler. Though some guests, especially Kenneth Clark, found it hard to catch his eye to refill drinks. My mother used to plan menus every morning -- and a good thing, because my father was given to inviting for lunch anyone interesting that he met in the museum that morning."
Once Henri Matisse came to lunch while a tall tree was being planted along the drive. Mrs. Phillips said he was surprised it grew so fast.
Her son remembers her dinners as formal.
"Men stayed in the dining room for cigars. But my father used to surprise people by taking them to play ping pong in the hall."
For Laughlin's daughter Liza, the music of the last great party for 250, her debutante tea dance -- "really my graduation party" -- still echoes around terrace and drawing room.
"It was a wonderful party -- my Madeira classmates said it was like a scene from "The Great Gatsby." My grandmother hadn't entertained on that scale in a long time. We danced outside on the terrace as well as inside to a small orchestra. And we all wore our graduation dresses.
"I mostly remember the Sunday afternoon tea parties with her heavy Tiffany silver tea service and famous chicken sandwiches -- no crusts. She was wonderful at steering the conversation to perfectly appropriate teatime conversation. Her dinner parties had finger bowls and guests such as painters John Marin and Karl Knaths -- none of our friends had similar experiences."
(Painter Liza and architectural student/painter Arthur van der Gracht Platt, great-grandson of the architect of the Freer Gallery of Art and the Corcoran annex, were to have been married yesterday, from the house of her mother, Betty Hood Phillips, in Nantucket.)
In Dunmarlin an octagonal wing is divided into a study and studio where, respectively, Duncan Phillips wrote and Marjorie Phillips painted. Though she painted every day with a "Do not disturb" sign on the door, "She had miniature easels set up in her studio for my brother Duncan and me," Liza remembers. "And a cabinet full of toys."
Mrs. Phillips once wrote that she spent her life painting "the celebration of the wonder of the world." This life, in words and pictures, is best seen in her two books, "Duncan Phillips and His Collection," (Little, Brown and Co.) and the more recent "Marjorie Phillips and her Paintings" (W.W. Norton).
The wonders of her world -- children racing the dog around in a toy rickshaw beneath Picasso paintings, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas coming to lunch, flowers in the drawing room growing into still-life paintings -- belong to a blooming time now over.
Soon the house will begin a new life. Neighbors on Foxhall Road will be interested to see the change.