- The Washington Times - Monday, November 5, 2001

Art world patrons from near and far turned out Thursday when Virginia and Bagley Wright of Seattle were given the third annual Duncan Phillips Award. The award was named for the Phillips Collection founder, renowned for his taste and talent in amassing valuable and moving works of art.
The occasion was celebratory in every way. Food and decor at dinner in the museum, which followed a reception and ceremony in the nearby Cosmos Club, echoed the art on the walls. A dessert titled "Still Life aux Fruits" after the Phillips' current show, "Impressionist Still Life" the first major exhibition on the subject was almost too good and lifelike to eat: Fresh fruit and flowers "flowed" in abundance from a flat, red, vase-shaped sponge cake topped with white icing. Orchid "trees" branched gracefully over tables in a small upstairs gallery. Tablecloths matched the colors of the most prominent paintings in two downstairs rooms.
All that and an impressive guest list, too. Attendees included WETA-TV head Sharon Percy Rockefeller; David Rockefeller, chairman emeritus of New York's Museum of Modern Art and last year's winner of the Phillips Award; Jamie Niven, an official of Sotheby's auction house who is son of the late actor David Niven; and a host of local notables associated with good deeds and culture in many forms. Among them was Vicky Sant, president of the Phillips Collection. French Ambassador Francois Bujon de l'Estang is international chairman of the award program, which is chaired by James Rosebush.
The evening was something of a family affair, bringing together circles of friends and acquaintances. The genial and outgoing Wrights long ago became associated indirectly with the Washington museum through Gifford Phillips, a relative of board chairman Laughlin Phillips'. (Laughlin Phillips, who lives in Connecticut, was unable to attend because of illness.) The Wrights and the Gifford Phillipses were newly married and living in Peter Cooper Village in New York City when they met.
"We were all young American collectors then. Now it's 'the old collectors,'" Mrs. Wright said with a laugh during a break in the receiving line.
There was a lot of good-natured banter behind the podium and on the screen as repeated testimonials were offered up to the Wrights' 50-year career collecting contemporary American art and simultaneously supporting a multitude of Pacific Northwest performing-arts organizations. Their interests are widespread; Mrs. Wright also is on the board of the Washington-based Friends of Art and Preservation in Embassies.
"The quality and range of the Wrights' collection can only be acquired through wisdom, judgment, selectivity and knowledge," said a properly respectful Jay Gates, director of the Phillips and former director of the Seattle Art Museum. "The Wrights transformed the landscape in the Pacific Northwest."
"Whoo, I'm all shook up," was Mrs. Wright's reaction as the medallion was draped around her neck. "I always thought citations were to crown some hard effort beyond the call of duty. Here we are being rewarded for having a wonderful life and doing things that please us."
The consensus among the crowd seemed to be a prediction of "selective buying," in Mr. Niven's words, at the big impressionist sales taking place this week.
He agreed with Mr. Rockefeller's comment that "very outstanding pictures will command high prices, and anything else is hard to sell." Mr. Rockefeller's purchases are limited these days. "I bought a little Monet last year that I thought was wonderful," he said. "It was special."
"The market has to be good," said Washington collector Walter Pozen. "You want to get things while you still can."


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