Charles Lang Freer worked closely with architect Charles A. Platt on the design of the Freer Gallery of Art. Freer preferred buildings with open courtyards, such as 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 plans for his proposed museum, with galleries organized around an open courtyard. The concept was realized after Freer hired Platt in 1912 to design the museum.
When the Freer Gallery of Art opened to the public in May 1923, the courtyard contained live peacocks and 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 glimpse the garden as they moved from gallery to gallery and thus ease 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.”
Freer intended for the Saint-Gaudens bronzes to be placed in the courtyard, but he did not live to see the museum completed. The sculptures languished in storage for many years until they were finally installed in the courtyard at the turn of the twenty-first century. Now, following their conservation by ice and fire, the bronzes continue to provide a note of subtle adornment to the courtyard and can be enjoyed by visitors for years to come.