- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 30, 2005

Monique Barbier-Mueller grew up surrounded by Renoirs, Cezannes, Matisses, Picassos and other great impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces collected by her late father, prominent Swiss engineer and industrialist Josef Mueller. What really attracted her developing connoisseur’s eye, however, was his trove of West African art, which he began amassing in the 1930s and which she steadfastly continued to purchase over the years: fabulous and exotic masks, weapons, armor, animal carvings, sculptures and jewelry (much made of tooled gold).

Housed in the Barbier-Muller Museum of Geneva, the collection is said to be the finest of its kind outside of the British Museum’s holdings and Africa itself.

That, and Mrs. Barbier-Muller’s generous support of living artists in many fields, was reason enough why she was selected to receive the Duncan Phillips Award Thursday night. (The award is the only significant recognition for collectors in the world and has been bestowed four times previously, to Leonard Lauder, David Rockefeller, theDuke of Bavaria and VirginiaandBagley Wright.)

“Her range of interests makes her almost unique,” Phillips Collection Director Jay Gates told $1,000-a-pop black-tie patrons at the Westin Embassy Row ceremony, noting later that the honoree’s “stunning vision combined with great generosity” were very much in the spirit of gallery founder Duncan Phillips, a man who not only made and understood art, but championed the artists of his day.

In her acceptance remarks, Mrs. Barbier-Mueller stressed a higher reason for mankind to study and appreciate art — not just one or two preferred forms, but as many of its genres as possible: “You can’t hate people,” she said, “if you understand deeply their way of cultural expression.”

Dinner in the Phillips Collection’s great room was an intimate affair, a bit smaller (about 75 were present) than in years past, but memorable nonetheless for the warmth of the Swiss-style three-cheek kissing and the presence of notable art aficionados, among them: Simon de Pury, head of the auction house Phillips de Pury and Company; Leonard Gianadda, founder of the Pierre Giannada Foundation Collection in Martigny, Switzerland; Swiss-born collector and sculptress Lolo Sarnoff; Basle dealer Ernst Beyeler; Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV and Sharon Percy Rockefeller;Marcand Jacqueline Leland(she is Swiss-born); Rogerand Vicki Sant; and Swiss Ambassador Christian Blickensdorfer and his wife Suzanne.

— Kevin Chaffee

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