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Esther Phillips Watercolor of Inmates Scene

Item Details

Esther Phillips (Pittsburgh/New York; 1902-1983)
Untitled, circa 1940s
Watercolor on paper
Signed “E. Phillips” to lower right

A watercolor painting on paper by artist Esther Phillips, created circa 1940s. This work features an scene of asylum inmates engaging in different activities, including dancing and playing games. Signed “E. Phillips” to the lower right, the work is presented under glass with off-white matting and housed in a silver-tone gesso wood frame.

Esther Phillips left Pittsburgh in the late 1930s to pursue a bohemian lifestyle in Greenwich Village. A member of the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh, she immersed herself into local artistic circles, and among her artist friends were modernists Milton Weiss (American; 1912-1995) and Franz Kline (American; 1910-1962). Phillips’ work was often executed in watercolors at a quick pace, exhibiting the influence of Fauvism, Cubism, and artists such as Stuart Davis, Arthur Dove, and Georgia O’Keeffe. Frequent subjects include abstracted cityscapes, townscapes, and asylum scenes that feature vibrant colors, simple shapes, and overall flatness. Her work has been exhibited posthumously at multiple galleries such as the Carson Street Gallery, the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, and the Borelli-Edwards Gallery, among others.

For 6 1/2 years, the artist lived in an asylum located in upstate New York. This work is one of many scenes that she painted of her fellow asylum inmates partaking in various activities at the institution. In addition to dancing and games pictured in this scene, other works of hers feature women bowling in the asylum bowling alley and playing basketball in the asylum gymnasium. Similar watercolor paintings by Phillips are featured in Lisa A. Miles’ biography of the artist titled This Fantastic Struggle: the life and art of Esther Phillips, published in 2002.


- minor wear scattered throughout frame.


25.5" W x 20.0" H x 1.0" D

- measurement of frame; visible image measures approximately 17.75" W x 11.5" H.

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