Smithsonian Freer Gallery Sackler Gallery National Museum of Asian Art Gallery Guide Arts of the Islamic World
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The Freer Gallery of Art is named for its founder, the Detroit industrialist Charles Lang Freer (1854–1919). Many visitors to the Freer are surprised to discover that although the gallery is primarily dedicated to Asian art, it also has major holdings of American paintings and prints from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Freer himself did not see anything odd in the double focus of his collecting interests. Like many people interested in art at the end of the nineteenth century, he believed that all true art expresses universal harmonies, and that the history of both European-American and Asian art expresses an erratic progress toward the clearer evocation of those harmonies. As Freer explained in a 1904 letter to the head of the Smithsonian Institution, "My great desire has been to unite modern work with masterpieces of certain periods of high civilization harmonious in spiritual and physical suggestion, having the power to broaden aesthetic culture and the grace to elevate the human mind."Charles Lang Freer to Samuel P. Langley, December 27, 1904. Charles Lang Freer Papers, Freer Gallery of Art Archives. Believing that both parts of his collection formed a single aesthetic whole, Freer originally insisted that the collection be limited to works he donated. With a few exceptions, no objects were to be added after his death. Freer later changed his mind, allowing the gallery to continue collecting older Asian art. But he retained the prohibition against acquiring additional American works, so the American collection remains unchanged from the day Freer donated it. The gallery's collection of American art is important for the beauty of the works it contains and as an historical artifact: it evidences both Freer's personal taste and a now distant moment in the development of American art and culture.

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Suggested Resources

Girl with Lute
Girl with Lute
by Thomas Wilmer Dewing (American, 1851–1938)
Oil on wood panel
60.8 x 45.0 cm (24 x 17 3/4 in.)
Gift of Charles Lang Freer   F1905.2
The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the Freer Gallery of Art
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