Charles Lang Freer worked closely with architect Charles Adams Platt on the design of his museum. Freer was especially partial to buildings with open courtyards, like those he had seen on his first tour of Italy, when he followed an itinerary from Platt’s illustrated book Italian Gardens. In 1908, Freer sketched the first of many preliminary museum building plans that included galleries organized around an open courtyard. The concept was realized after Freer hired Platt in 1912 to design the museum.
When the building opened to the public in 1923, the courtyard, ornamented for a time with live peacocks, was frequently noted as one of the most delightful features of the museum. Royal Cortissoz, a New York art critic, observed that it “brought into the scheme precious elements of light, air, and color” and “did away with the frigidity so characteristic of museums.” Visitors could always catch a glimpse of the garden as they moved from gallery to gallery, mitigating the possibility of visual exhaustion. As Cortissoz noted, if someone “has been absorbed in Chinese pottery, for example, and wants to go off and restfully think about it, he need not glance on his way at Egyptian glass or American painting. He can give himself up to the mood if he wants.”