Since viewing the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston’s John Singer Sargent exhibit a few months ago, I’ve been drawn to watercolors. So, when I saw that The Phillips Collection had a new watercolors exhibit, I was eager to visit. After wandering the museum for a little while, unable to find the exhibit, I asked where the watercolors were located. I was told to head to the second floor, but I was not told that the exhibit was occupying a corner room of the museum so small that it makes a dorm room seem spacious.
Within the hidden “alcove” are dozens of tiny watercolors the size of index cards. The title of the exhibit, Jean Meisel 50-65 Horizon Line, explains why it is that each painting is lined up matching the horizon lines within each watercolor. The walls of the tiny room are a deep blue and the watercolors wrap around them in a singular line. A local DC artist, Meisel’s watercolors are dreamy, despite their small-scale. The paintings range in colors from light blues and greens to richer pinks and oranges. They are especially interesting due to their tone and texture, which leaves a subtle, but beautiful impression on viewers. Because of this, the exhibit is more about the emotions the paintings evoke rather than the paintings themselves. Meisel once said, “The horizon is something that is always there, yet we take for granted. It is a steady line that is always present, yet always hides something.” In many ways this quote reflects the ambiguity and mysteriousness of the exhibit and the refinement of her paintings.
Because of the small space, the dark blue walls, and the nature of the watercolors, the exhibit definitely acts as a tranquil escape for visitors. This makes the hidden exhibit peaceful, but also a bit underwhelming considering the way the museum marketed the exhibition. If you are looking for a few minutes tucked away in a calm nook of The Phillips Collection, definitely take the time to check out her work. If you are, instead, hoping for Sargent-sized watercolors and diverse subject matter, you will not find it here. That is not to say that Meisel’s paintings are not excellent, they are great. Just be mindful of the size of both her watercolors and the room they inhabit.
Meisel’s work is on view through May 4th and the museum is only a quick walk from the Dupont Circle metro station on the Red line.