Skip to Content

Contemporaries: Twentieth-Century Painting at Dumbarton Oaks

May 9–December 3, 2023 | A cross-sectional view of the House Collection through a chronological lens.

Contemporaries: Twentieth-Century Painting at Dumbarton Oaks seeks to draw order from the diverse artistic responses to the early twentieth century present in the Dumbarton Oaks House Collection. The exhibition provides a cross-sectional view of the House Collection through a chronological lens to illustrate how the paintings relate to one another, how the narratives of the collection’s early twentieth-century art (1901–1937) diverges from canonical art historical narratives, and how the Blisses turned to contemporary artists to articulate the history through which they were living. 

Ten paintings that span a range of mediums, styles, subjects, and politics, are organized into five pairings on the themes of exteriors, interiors, landscape, group portraits, and figure studies. Each pairing presents contrasting views of life in the early twentieth century. Contemporaries offers viewers an opportunity to negotiate the complexities of the House Collection with a mind toward the founders’ multifaceted artistic vision and the paintings’ historical and art historical contexts. 

Objects on View

A young girl peeking out of a large window, somewhat obscured by the protective wrought iron grille. She is dwarfed by her architectural setting painted in neutral whites and browns but stands out with her bright pink dress and hair ribbon.

Child at a Window

Edouard Vuillard
c. 1901
Oil on cardboard adhered to cradled panel

Looking through an open casement window at a three-and-a-half-story brick and stucco building façade and courtyard with a tree in a square wooden planter. The oblique vantage point creates abstract grids of rectangular shapes and a contrast between the compressed foreground space of the window with the more open, but not unlimited space of the courtyard.

The Open Window, Le Bréau

Walter Gay
c. 1907-19
Watercolor on artist board

A cropped corner view of a château salon set up as an artist studio, with two rows of oval paintings hung on the sunny, paneled walls. There are paintings placed on easels and propped up against the walls as well as the artist’s palette and brushes resting casually on the neoclassical writing desk between the two mismatched chairs flanking the fireplace.

Les Tableaux, Le Bréau

Walter Gay
c. 1918-23
Oil on canvas

An oblique view into a ward of a hospital or orphanage, with dark earth-tones on the walls and floor, and two rows of metal beds with white bedding. There are two groupings of people, a woman standing with an older child looking at a young toddler on a bed, and a small grouping of children between two beds.


Charles Duvent
Early 20th C.  
Watercolor and gouache on canvas 

Somber painting of a priest standing in a wind-blown cassock reading from a book, presumably the Bible, at the foot of a shallow rectangular grave site. Beside the grave stands a uniformed soldier holding a rustic cross with a piece of lumber and various unidentified objects in the lower right corner. The setting appears to be a beach at the edge of the sea, under a leaden grey sky.

Enterrement au Front

Jean-Louis Forain
Oil on canvas

A brightly-colored, bird's-eye perspective of a landscape of rolling hills and plains of mostly trees or possibly orchard on crisscrossed furrowed fields. In the background, a dark structure sits on top of a large hill, under a bright blue sky.


Willy Eisenschitz 
Oil on canvas  

A woman and three children stand outdoors before a body of water. Their clothing is largely primary colors, blending into the various green and blue shades of the background. The children’s postures are casual, with bare legs and bare feet.

Woman with Three Children

Augustus Edwin John
c. 1910
Oil on panel

Three African American children—an infant boy in diapers and two girls in their nightdresses—kneel on the floor in prayer. The oldest devoutly keeps her eyes tightly shut while the other two look out at the viewer. Little of the interior space in which they pray is visible, except for the floorboards, the paned window, and the brightly colored, pink flowered wallpaper on the wall.

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

Bernice Cross
c. 1937
Oil on canvas

A man depicted in seventeenth-century costume, somewhat in the manner of the artist Anthony Van Dyck, wearing a large hat, starched ruff, and brocaded garment in blue and red. His large mustache and short beard are also in the manner of the era of Van Dyck. The man is sitting in side-profile, with his head and eyes turned slightly to look at the viewer.

Portrait of a Man (Self-Portrait in 17th-Century Costume)

Émile Friant
c. 1925
Watercolor over black pencil on paper

An abstract painting of a clown with a large ruff, hat, and garish makeup looking sadly upwards. It is almost entirely in two oil pigments, blue and magenta, which he applied in gradations of saturated to highly diluted washes. In a few areas There are glued pieces of painted paper to the surface of the painting apparently to either change or augment the original composition.

Head of a Clown

Georges Rouault
c. 1907-08
Oil on paper on board

Related Content

May 23, 2023

Gallery Talk: Contemporaries

Join guest curator Samuel Shapiro as he discusses how the narratives of twentieth-century art contained within the collection diverge from canonical art historical narratives, and how the Blisses turned to contemporary artists to articulate the history through which they were living.

Behind the Exhibition: Contemporaries

Contemporaries is both a display of the literal contemporaries of Dumbarton Oaks’ founders, and an exhibition that questions what a contemporary is in times when experiences of the same moment can vastly differ and experiences across centuries can be eerily alike.