Educators: Introducing the Freer Gallery of Art

The Freer|Sackler is known for the quality and array of its Asian art collection and focused display of work by nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American artists. This timeline explores the history of the museum, its collection and founder, Charles Lang Freer, to understand his belief of the universality of beauty, a principle that guided his acquisition of diverse art, using images compiled by the Freer|Sackler Education Department. For more information, contact asiateachers @ si.edu.
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1892: Freer purchases his first Japanese ceramic from New York art dealer Takayanagi Tōzō. He is fascinated by works of diverse origins that are nonetheless related in color or surface texture. The underglazed decoration on this Satsuma ware bottle, for example, reminds him of a “Whistlerian landscape."   Bottle; attributed to Kano Tangen (1679–1767); Japan, Edo period, 19th century; stoneware with cobalt pigment under clear glaze; Gift of Charles Lang Freer; F1892.26

Freer purchases his first Japanese ceramic from New York art dealer…

1904: To honor Whistler’s wishes, Freer purchases the Peacock Room and has it shipped across the Atlantic and reassembled in his Detroit home. Freer calls it “the Blue Room” and fills it with pieces from his collection of ceramics.   “Whistler's Peacock Room: World's Greatest Masterpiece of Decorative Art Bought by An American," Chicago Tribune, September 4, 1904; Freer|Sackler Archives

Whistler’s Peacock Room Chicago Sunday Tribune, 4 September, 1904

1903: Freer travels to Europe and is with Whistler in London during the artist’s final illness. He purchases Whistler’s painting “The Princess from the Land of Porcelain” from the Glasgow collector William Burrell.   The Princess from the Land of Porcelain (La Princesse du pays de la porcelaine); James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903); United States; 1863–65; oil on canvas; Gift of Charles Lang Freer; F1903.91a–b

The Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery are the Smithsonian's museums of Asian art.

1894–95: At American artist James McNeill Whistler’s (1834¬–1903) urging, Freer makes his first tour of Asia. Before the visit, Freer had delighted in Japanese woodblock prints (ukiyo-e) like many other collectors at that time. But after his trip to Asia, a considerable change occurs in Freer’s collecting habits.   Charles Lang Freer and two rickshaw men in Kyoto, Japan; 1895; Charles Lang Freer Papers; Freer|Sackler Archives; FSA.A.01 12.01.6

American art collector Charles Lang Freer and two rickshaw men in Kyoto, Japan;

1902: Freer spends the summer in Britain and sees James McNeill Whistler’s Peacock Room in London. The Peacock Room was once the dining room in the London home of Frederick R. Leyland, a wealthy ship-owner from Liverpool, England, and Whistler’s most important patron.   View of the southeast corner of the Peacock Room; James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903); 1876–77

The inspiration: Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room, James McNeill Whistler, Freer and Sackler Galleries

1899: At the age of forty-five, Freer retires from active business to devote himself to collecting art. This photo shows how Freer juxtaposed a painting by American artist James McNeill Whistler with a ceramic piece from the Islamic world, comparing the jar’s glaze with Whistler’s color harmonies.   Freer comparing Whistler's “Venus Rising from the Sea” (F1903.174) to an Islamic glazed ceramic pot (F1905.61); photograph by Alvin Langdon Coburn (American, 1882–1966); 1909; Charles Lang Freer…

1899: At the age of forty-five, Freer retires from active business to devote himself to collecting art. This photo shows how Freer juxtaposed a painting by American artist James McNeill Whistler with a ceramic piece from the Islamic world, comparing the jar’s glaze with Whistler’s color harmonies. Freer comparing Whistler's “Venus Rising from the Sea” (F1903.174) to an Islamic glazed ceramic pot (F1905.61); photograph by Alvin Langdon Coburn (American, 1882–1966); 1909; Charles Lang Freer…

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