Whistler’s Peacock Room Reopens: A Harmony In Blue and Gold

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

A note in today’s Lowell Sun tells us that the famed and now restored “Peacock Room” in the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, D. C. reopens today for public viewing. The room was originally designed for British shipping magnate Frederick Leyland, who wanted a place to showcase his blue-and-white Chinese porcelain collection in his London home. American expatriate and Lowell-born artist James McNeill Whistler redecorated the room in 1876 and 1877 as a “harmony in blue and gold” using the Chinese porcelain patterns for his inspiration. This work is probably the single best-known object in the entire Freer collection. Today, museum goers will see a room restored to it 1908 days.

“…has been restored to its appearance in 1908, when museum founder Charles Lang Freer used it 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.”

On a further note – although the Freer Gallery of Art is generally known as an Asian art museum, it also houses a significant collection of paintings and etchings by James McNeill Whistler beyond the Peacock Room. The Whistler collection consists of almost thirteen hundred paintings, drawings, or engravings. Highlights include early works such as Variations in Flesh Colour and Green: The Balcony (1864–70), numerous portraits, including the large painting of his model Maud Franklin titled Arrangement in White and Black (about 1876), several of the most powerful of the night scenes Whistler called “nocturnes,” and a virtually complete collection of his engravings.

Read more here at the Smithsonian Museums of Asian Art.