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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1873–80: Born on February 25, 1854, in Kingston, New York, Charles Lang Freer begins to build his fortune in the railroad car manufacturing industry. Colonel Frank Hecker and Freer organize Peninsular Car Works in Detroit.  Charles Lang Freer; photograph by CM Hayes & Co.; Detroit, 1880s; Charles Lang Freer Papers; Freer|Sackler Archives

Photographic portraits of Charles Lang Freer

1883: Freer begins collecting fine art prints by contemporary European artists.   Swan and Iris; James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903); United States, ca. 1883; etching on paper; Gift of Charles Lang Freer; F1883.1

Freer begins collecting fine art prints by contemporary European artists. Swan and Iris; James McNeill Whistler United States, ca. etching on paper; Gift of Charles Lang Freer;

1887: Freer meets New York collector Howard Mansfield (1849–1938) and discovers the work of American artist James McNeill Whistler (1834¬–1903). Freer purchases the entire Second Venice Set, twenty-six “fine impressions” of etchings by Whistler, from the Knoedler Gallery. This marks the beginning of a long and fruitful partnership with Whistler.   Quiet Canal; James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903); United States, 1879–80; Gift of Charles Lang Freer; F1887.25

1887: Freer meets New York collector Howard Mansfield (1849–1938) and discovers the work of American artist James McNeill Whistler (1834¬–1903). Freer purchases the entire Second Venice Set, twenty-six “fine impressions” of etchings by Whistler, from the Knoedler Gallery. This marks the beginning of a long and fruitful partnership with Whistler. Quiet Canal; James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903); United States, 1879–80; Gift of Charles Lang Freer; F1887.25

1887: Freer begins to collect Asian art through New York dealers. His first work of Japanese art, a fan decorated with a crane design, was later found to have an inauthentic signature and seal of Ogata Kōrin. A Crane; style of Ogata Kōrin 尾形光琳 (1658–1716); Japan, Edo period, 19th century; ink and color on paper; Gift of Charles Lang Freer; F1887.1

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

1890: On his first trip to London, Freer meets American artist James McNeill Whistler (1834¬–1903) in person and becomes an enthusiastic collector of his work. This mutually beneficial relationship between collector and artist eventually leads to the founding of the Freer Gallery. This work by Whistler is the only portrait of Freer to enter the museum’s collection.  Portrait of Charles Lang Freer; James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903); United States, 1902–3; oil on wood panel; Gift of Charles…

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

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…

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;

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