Freer, gallery 12
The Peacock Room in Blue and White fills the room’s shelving with blue-and-white Chinese porcelains, inspired by room’s appearance in 1876 when it was the dining room of Frederick Leyland, a shipping magnate in London.
With the sinuous patterns and brilliant blue and white colors of Leyland’s Kangxi ware in mind, Whistler, a proponent of aesthetic harmony, painted over the room in a flurry of blue and gold. The intricate blue, green, and gold patterns invoke the plumage of the peacock, creating a tonal counterpoint to the bolder patterns and colors of the porcelains.
Blue-and-white porcelain from the Freer Collection adorn the shelves of the east and north walls of the room, and newly commissioned blue-and-white ceramics in the Kangxi style line the west and south walls. These porcelains are not reproductions of historical blue-and-white ware. Instead, they reflect the continuity of a 1,500-year-old porcelain-making tradition in Jingdezhen, China. Porcelain production during the Kangxi period greatly expanded China’s export trade with Europe, sparking the East-West exchange that endures to this day. The resulting installation allows visitors to experience the room in much the same way Whistler originally envisioned it.