Freer, gallery 12
James McNeill Whistler’s Peacock Room has served as a backdrop for displays of Asian ceramics since the mid-nineteenth century. For a limited time, you can enjoy the room as Whistler saw it—as a work of art in itself.
Whistler painted every surface of the room, from the decorative ceiling to the walls hidden by shelves to the large window shutters, with patterns and colors inspired by peacocks. With the shelves temporarily empty and walls exposed, you have a rare opportunity to examine the peacock patterns and color harmonies Whistler created. Take advantage of unobstructed views while the room is prepared for a long-term installation of blue-and-white Chinese porcelain ceramics, scheduled to open in spring 2019.
The history of the Peacock Room begins when it was the dining room in the London home of Frederick Leyland, one of Whistler’s patrons. Leyland took part in the “Chinamania” craze that swept Victorian England. His renowned collection of Kangxi blue-and-white porcelain filled the dining room shelves. Whistler redecorated the room in 1876 and 1877 as a “harmony in blue and gold” that would complement his painting Princess from the Land of Porcelain, which hung over the fireplace. Leyland was far from pleased with the transformation—and with the artist’s requested fee—but he kept the room intact. Whistler never saw the Peacock Room again.
Museum founder Charles Lang Freer purchased the Peacock Room in 1904, shipped it from London, and reassembled it as part of his home in Detroit, Michigan. There, he filled its shelves with ceramics he collected from Syria, Iran, Japan, China, and Korea. For Freer, the Peacock Room not only reminded him of his friend Whistler, but it also embodied the collector’s personal belief that “all works of art go together, whatever their period.” The room continued to exemplify that philosophy when it was moved in 1920, this time to Washington, DC, and its permanent home in the Freer Gallery of Art.