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The Peacock Room Comes to America

April 9, 2011–January 3, 2016
Freer Gallery of Art

For the first time, the Freer Gallery's renowned Peacock Room has been restored to its appearance in 1908, when museum founder Charles Lang Freer used it to present ancient biblical manuscripts he had acquired in Egypt and to organize and display more than 250 ceramics he had collected from throughout Asia. As the first special exhibition held in the room since it underwent conservation in 1993, The Peacock Room Comes to America highlights Freer's belief in "points of contact" between American and Asian art and the aesthetic relationships to be found among the museum's diverse collections.

The Peacock Room was originally designed by architect Thomas Jeckyll for British shipping magnate Frederick Leyland, who wanted a place to showcase his blue-and-white Chinese porcelain collection in his London home. When American expatriate artist James McNeill Whistler redecorated the room in 1876 and 1877 as a "harmony in blue and gold," he was inspired by the delicate patterns and vivid colors of the Chinese porcelains. Their slick surfaces, however, did not appeal to Freer, who favored complex surface textures and subtly toned glazes. After he purchased the Peacock Room and moved it from London to his mansion in Detroit in 1904, Freer filled the shelves with pots he had acquired from Egypt, Iran, Japan, China, and Korea. The current presentation of works is based on photographs taken in Freer's Detroit residence in 1908.

Much like the room's arrangement in Detroit more than a century ago, this exhibition underscores Freer's belief that "all works of art go together, whatever their period." That faith in cross-cultural aesthetic harmonies achieved its ultimate expression in the Freer Gallery of Art, which opened to the public in 1923. Whistler's imaginative interior, now fittingly located between galleries of Chinese and American art, embodies the meeting of East and West. Enjoy the Peacock Room as Charles Lang Freer did by making unexpected aesthetic connections between art and decoration, paintings and ceramics, and America and Asia.

Room installation
Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room
James McNeill Whistler, 1834–1903
Oil paint and gold leaf on canvas, leather, and wood
Gift of Charles Lang Freer

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