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Dutch ambassador praises Phillips Collection as a 'jewel' of Washington

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The Netherlands Ambassador Rudolf Bekink praised the Phillips Collection, now exhibiting "Van Gogh Repetitions", as "one of the jewels of Washington".

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But the diplomat was dubious about Americans' pronunciations of Dutch names.

At the museum reception Dec. 17, Ambassador Bekink hailed Dutch masters and Dutch innovation, especially Vincent van Gogh -- "an innovator through persistence and originality."

The Netherlands' ambassador noted other Dutch masters such as Vermeer (1632-1675), Mondrian (1872-1944), and de Kooning (1904-1997).

"Some of their work is centuries old, but innovative," the ambassador told the guests. "That innovative culture thrives in the Netherlands today."

What does not thrive in the United States, he made clear, was Americans' fracturing Dutch names.

He imitated this in his erudite accent, like an international variation on the theme of "You say 'potayto', and I say 'potahto' ... 'tomayto' ... 'tomahto'", á la that George and Ira Gershwin classic.

But let's not call the whole thing off, even though a name by any other pronunciation does not sound as sweet.

The correct way to say van Gogh sounds like "cough" -- the word and the actual action.

"Van Gogh Repetitions" is the first exhibit dedicated to his variations on themes. The artist (1850-1890) created more than 20 versions of "The Weavers" during the six months he was taking care of his mother who had broken her hip in 1884.

The exhibit has several "Weavers"; six versions of van Gogh's very familiar subject "The Postman", his friend Joseph Roulin; and five of van Gogh's famed "L'Arlésienne" (The Woman from Arles).

The Phillips' "The Road Menders" and the Cleveland Museum of Art's strikingly similar "The Large Plane Trees" are displayed together for the first time in this unique exhibit co-organized by the two museums.

Phillips director Dorothy Kosinksi told guests, "It's like a detective novel, determining what the artist intended."

The guests decided for themselves as they toured the intriguing exhibit, which you can do through Feb. 2. The Phillips was one of the first American museums to acquire a van Gogh painting.

For more info and tickets: "Van Gogh Repetitions", The Phillips Collection, www.phillipscollection.org, 1600 21st Street, N.W. (at Q Street), Washington, D.C., 202-387-2151. Now through Feb. 2. Tickets (advance tickets are strongly recommended). Public programs related to the exhibition,www.phillipscollection.org/events. Co-organized by The Phillips and The Cleveland Museum of Art, where it will be on view March 2 through May 26.

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