This city will long remember Marjorie Phillips, who died Wednesday in her 91st year, as the founder with her husband, Duncan, of one of the great museums in the country -- one of the great special museums of the world, in fact: that small, glowing jewel of a collection set in the grand house on 21st Street where she and her husband lived until, in 1929, the collection that dominated and now memorializes their lives had also taken over the house, and they moved out. The bucolic view from the terrace of the Georgian mansion they then built on Foxhall Road rivaled the Renoirs and Bonnards on the walls, the great Prendergast screen in their drawing room and the lovely, light-filled paintings of Marjorie Phillips herself.
For Mrs. Phillips was not merely a collector, although she and her husband did that magnificently. They had the resources, of course: Duncan Phillips was immensely rich, and great paintings cost money, even in 1923 when they bought the world-famous Renoir, "The Luncheon of the Boating Party," for $125,000. They also had the desire and the determination. But what Mrs. Phillips possessed above all was the love for art and the discerning eye without which neither greatness nor beauty can be recognized, and that constitutes a greatness of its own.
They acquired Bonnards when the great French impressionist was little known. They recognized the austere grandeur of Rothko and devoted a room to his work -- a windowless room that glows like stained glass -- when lesser eyes saw nothing but meaningless squares of color. Their Klees, their Matisses, their Soutines, their Cezannes: the entire brilliant collection and the Sunday afternoon concerts given in its midst all testify to the Phillipses' love for art, their joy in it and Mrs. Phillips' lifelong practice of it.
To many in this city, though, Mrs. Phillips will be remembered for humbler, very human and very generous touches: the rather startling boots, galoshes really -- she cared not a fig for fashion -- that she chose to wear because her feet were cold and she found them comfortable; the salmon-colored roses that she bestowed on her friends; the exquisite orchids that she chose herself and sent for holidays, and the car that she often dispatched to move her friends about the city. Many of Mrs. Phillips' friends were renowned for one thing or another, but at least as many were much like the rest of us: ordinary people struggling with their extraordinary lives. To her, you see, every life was extraordinary.
Certainly that can be said of her own: artist, mother, wife, collector, hostess. All that will be remembered by those who knew her. But it is her eye above all -- her unique discerning eye -- that will be remembered by those of us here now and those of us to come. That eye will bring joy for as long as art and beauty matter.