The Phillips Collection: A Review

Touted as America’s “First Museum of Modern Art,” the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. is a worthy competitor to its larger counterparts on the National Mall, and can be enjoyed by both tourists, locals, and art aficionados alike.

Most famous piece in the museum? Luncheon of the Boating Party (1881) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Photo above. Purchased by Duncan Phillips in 1923, for the sum of $125,000 (equivalent to $1.8 million today), this particular piece is just gorgeous. Even if you only have a few minutes, and can’t visit the other galleries in the museum, stop by this painting on the second floor, spend a few moments relaxing on the bench provided and appreciate the mastery of Renoir. While you’re there, see if you can spot Renoir’s crush and future wife.

Time Required? 1-2 hours. If you’re one of those people who like to read all of the placards, then give yourself a bit more time to peruse the galleries. However, if you prefer to move at a rapid clip, then you can easily get through the Phillips Collection in an hour or less.

Game Plan? After getting your ticket and checking your bag/coat, head up the stairs to your right and visit the galleries on the first and second floors. Depending on the calendar, the third floor may be hosting a visiting or temporary exhibition, or closed for the transition between exhibitions. After you’re done upstairs, walk back down to the lobby and visit the two galleries to the right of the cafe. From there, I’d recommend taking a short coffee, snack, or bathroom break if you need it, before visiting the permanent galleries in the older part of the museum to the left of the bookstore. Before you leave, be sure to pop into the bookstore for a quick browse, and don’t miss the art on the walls of the lobby.  If you have some extra time, there are interesting art books on the coffee tables that I’d recommend spending a few minutes perusing while relaxing on one of the couches.

Admission? Tuesday-Friday, it’s free! On weekends, admission for adults is $10; seniors/students are $8, members and kids under 18 are free. Visiting and temporary ticketed exhibitions, such as Nordic Impressions, claim a slightly higher price of $12 and $10, respectively.

Kid Friendly? Surprisingly, yes. There is a family reading room on the lower level of the museum, child-friendly art pieces at kids’ eye-level along with accompanying conversation prompts, and events throughout the year, all geared towards youngsters. More info here. In addition, and perhaps more importantly, other visitors are understanding and compassionate towards families with kids. At the Phillips, one finds magnificent art with minimal snobbery and very little side-eye.

Bring a date? By all means. The Phillips Collection is small and quiet enough to lend a relaxing nature to a first, second, or tenth date. You won’t feel overwhelmed by the size of the museum or break the bank if you visit during the week. It’s also not one of the most well-known museums in the city, so you may end up inadvertently impressing your date by demonstrating superior cultural knowledge of D.C.

Cafe? Tryst at the Phillips Collection is cozy, warm, and a great spot to re-energize between galleries. I love their cappuccinos and the quiche is scrumptious and filing. When the weather is nice, pop outside to the sculpture garden and enjoy a cool drink in the fresh Dupont air. For those of you looking to do some work there, free wi-fi is provided.

Store? With a wide range of post cards, posters, notebooks, jewelry, scarves, art supplies, and books, as well as a rotating offering of objects for purchase relating to the temporary exhibitions, the Phillips Collection store is a delight. For example, on my last visit, I found an excellent pencil sharpener at a very affordable price. In addition, the clerks are very upbeat and helpful, and it’s large enough to not feel cramped or claustrophobic.

Special Events? So many! From concerts on Sunday afternoons, to Phillips after 5 parties, to artist talks and family events, the team at the Phillips Collection is constantly churning out high quality, affordable cultural experiences. It is so much more than a museum, it is a team of individuals that aims to make art approachable and fun. Follow the museum on social media, or join the mailing list to stay updated with all of the wonderful offerings.

Stars? 4/5. I’m a huge fan of small museums that pack a punch, and this one has nailed the formula for providing a high quality experience that brings visitors back again and again. Between its fresh temporary exhibitions, to the rotating pieces in its permanent collection, to the Rothkho room, and then topping it all of with its cozy cafe and well-stocked bookstore, this is a museum that can’t be missed.

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Reykjavik (1991) Richard Serra

Anything else I need to know? There is a free coat check to the right of the check-in desk and a place to store umbrellas. Also, free wi-fi is available throughout the museum.

Website? https://www.phillipscollection.org/ 

Address? 1600 21st Street NW Washington, D.C.  Via public transportation, the museum is about a five minute walk from the Dupont Circle metro station. There is also on-street parking available (if you can find it), but I’d recommend taking the metro.

Disclaimer: My views are my own and do not reflect the opinion or position of the Phillips Collection. I am not getting compensated in any way for this review.

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