- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 16, 2006

When it comes to hosting preview dinners for high-end donors, the Phillips Collection has few peers among the city’s arts institutions. Top acquisitors turn out, even those who could more easily dine at home in the company of their own Bonnards and Corots.

It helped, of course, that the discreet invitation for the Phillips’ Monday fete listed French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte and British Ambassador Sir David Manning as co-hosts, along with their wives.

And that the show, “Degas, Sickert and Toulouse-Lautrec,” is a long-overdue look at the creative interaction between artists working in London and Paris during the period 1870 through1910.

“It was the time of the Entente Cordiale and many French were Anglophiles,” the British ambassador said while admiring James Tissot’s sumptuous “Galleries of HMS Calcutta (Portsmouth),” on loan from London’s Tate Britain gallery.

British collectors were captivated by the works of French artists, who had flocked across the English Channel after the destruction of Paris during the Commune de Paris. It was only a matter of time before prominent British artists like Walter Sickert and his contemporaries would be profoundly influenced by their French colleagues’ work.

The exhibition “shows the cross-pollination of two European nations and that ideas always travel freely across the seas,” Mr. Levitte said, praising the “love affair” between France and Britain of that era, one that ultimately extended — through artists like James Whistler — to America as well.

“It’s an extraordinarily nutritious exhibition,” Phillips Director Jay Gates pronounced later in the baronial Music Room as guests dined on coquilles St. Jacques, spring lamb and a chocolate pave, all very “up close and personal” with the works of Georges Braque, Joan Miro and Richard Diebenkorn, overhead.

Kevin Chaffee

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