Educators: Introducing the Freer Gallery of Art

The Freer|Sackler is known for the quality and array of its Asian art collection and focused display of work by nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American artists. This timeline explores the history of the museum, its collection and founder, Charles Lang Freer, to understand his belief of the universality of beauty, a principle that guided his acquisition of diverse art, using images compiled by the Freer|Sackler Education Department. For more information, contact asiateachers @ si.edu.
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1892: Freer purchases his first Japanese ceramic from New York art dealer Takayanagi Tōzō. He is fascinated by works of diverse origins that are nonetheless related in color or surface texture. The underglazed decoration on this Satsuma ware bottle, for example, reminds him of a “Whistlerian landscape."   Bottle; attributed to Kano Tangen (1679–1767); Japan, Edo period, 19th century; stoneware with cobalt pigment under clear glaze; Gift of Charles Lang Freer; F1892.26

Freer purchases his first Japanese ceramic from New York art dealer…

1896: Freer meets Japanese art dealer Matsuki Bunkyo (1867¬–1940) in Boston and begins to collect Japanese paintings. He purchases this six-panel folding screen from Bunkyo and loans Japanese prints to an exhibition at the Grolier Club in New York.  Summer and Autumn Flowers; Sōtatsu school; Japan, Edo period, 17th century; six-panel screen, color over gold on paper; Gift of Charles Lang Freer; F1896.82

Freer meets Japanese art dealer Matsuki Bunkyo in Boston and…

1904: To honor Whistler’s wishes, Freer purchases the Peacock Room and has it shipped across the Atlantic and reassembled in his Detroit home. Freer calls it “the Blue Room” and fills it with pieces from his collection of ceramics.   “Whistler's Peacock Room: World's Greatest Masterpiece of Decorative Art Bought by An American," Chicago Tribune, September 4, 1904; Freer|Sackler Archives

Whistler’s Peacock Room Chicago Sunday Tribune, 4 September, 1904

1897–98: Freer's collection grows significantly as he purchases many Chinese and Japanese ceramics and Japanese paintings. He also purchases 276 works by American artist James McNeill Whistler, mostly etchings and drawings from the Haden Collection.  Boy Viewing Mount Fuji; Katsushika Hokusai 葛飾北斎 (1760–1849); Japan, Edo period, 1839; hanging screen, ink and color on silk; Gift of Charles Lang Freer; F1898.110

Hokusai Boy Viewing Mount Fuji Japanese Vintage Poster created by artfoxx.

1892: Freer purchases “Variations in Flesh Colour and Green: The Balcony,” his first oil painting by Whistler. This work represents the artist’s early experiments with applying conventions derived from Japanese prints to depictions of contemporary London.  Variations in Flesh Colour and Green: The Balcony; James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903); United States, 1864–70, additions 1870–79; oil on wood panel; Gift of Charles Lang Freer; F1892.23a–b

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, variations in flesh colour and green, the balcony, 1865

1894–95: At American artist James McNeill Whistler’s (1834¬–1903) urging, Freer makes his first tour of Asia. Before the visit, Freer had delighted in Japanese woodblock prints (ukiyo-e) like many other collectors at that time. But after his trip to Asia, a considerable change occurs in Freer’s collecting habits.   Charles Lang Freer and two rickshaw men in Kyoto, Japan; 1895; Charles Lang Freer Papers; Freer|Sackler Archives; FSA.A.01 12.01.6

American art collector Charles Lang Freer and two rickshaw men in Kyoto, Japan;

1903: Freer travels to Europe and is with Whistler in London during the artist’s final illness. He purchases Whistler’s painting “The Princess from the Land of Porcelain” from the Glasgow collector William Burrell.   The Princess from the Land of Porcelain (La Princesse du pays de la porcelaine); James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903); United States; 1863–65; oil on canvas; Gift of Charles Lang Freer; F1903.91a–b

The Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery are the Smithsonian's museums of Asian art.

1907: Freer takes his second tour of Asia and makes significant purchases in China and Japan, where he is treated as an internationally renowned collector.   Amitabha; Japan, Kamakura period, 13th century; wood; Gift of Charles Lang Freer; F1907.111a–b

Amitabha (Jap: Amida) century Kamakura period Wood H: W: cm Japan

1902: Freer spends the summer in Britain and sees James McNeill Whistler’s Peacock Room in London. The Peacock Room was once the dining room in the London home of Frederick R. Leyland, a wealthy ship-owner from Liverpool, England, and Whistler’s most important patron.   View of the southeast corner of the Peacock Room; James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903); 1876–77

The inspiration: Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room, James McNeill Whistler, Freer and Sackler Galleries

1899: At the age of forty-five, Freer retires from active business to devote himself to collecting art. This photo shows how Freer juxtaposed a painting by American artist James McNeill Whistler with a ceramic piece from the Islamic world, comparing the jar’s glaze with Whistler’s color harmonies.   Freer comparing Whistler's “Venus Rising from the Sea” (F1903.174) to an Islamic glazed ceramic pot (F1905.61); photograph by Alvin Langdon Coburn (American, 1882–1966); 1909; Charles Lang Freer…

1899: At the age of forty-five, Freer retires from active business to devote himself to collecting art. This photo shows how Freer juxtaposed a painting by American artist James McNeill Whistler with a ceramic piece from the Islamic world, comparing the jar’s glaze with Whistler’s color harmonies. Freer comparing Whistler's “Venus Rising from the Sea” (F1903.174) to an Islamic glazed ceramic pot (F1905.61); photograph by Alvin Langdon Coburn (American, 1882–1966); 1909; Charles Lang Freer…

1907: Freer acquires the Horace Allen collection of Korean and Chinese ceramics, adding more than eighty examples—including this Korean ewer with a celadon glaze—to his growing collection of East Asian wares.   Ewer; Korea, Goryeo period, late 11th–early 12th century; stoneware with celadon glaze; Gift of Charles Lang Freer; F1907.286a–b

The Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery are the Smithsonian's museums of Asian art.

1883: Freer begins collecting fine art prints by contemporary European artists.   Swan and Iris; James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903); United States, ca. 1883; etching on paper; Gift of Charles Lang Freer; F1883.1

Freer begins collecting fine art prints by contemporary European artists. Swan and Iris; James McNeill Whistler United States, ca. etching on paper; Gift of Charles Lang Freer;

1893: Freer purchases “A Virgin” by Abbott Handerson Thayer to hang in the stairwell of his home. He also lends several American paintings from his personal collection to the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.  A Virgin; Abbott Handerson Thayer (1849–1921); United States, 1892–1893; oil on canvas; Gift of Charles Lang Freer; F1893.11a

Artist Abbott Handerson Thayer Boston, Massachusetts, 1849 - Dublin, New Hampshire

1901: Freer meets Ernest Fenollosa (1853–1908), a scholar-dealer who proves to be a key advisor in Freer's quest to become a connoisseur of Japanese and Chinese art.   Photographic portrait of Ernest Fenollosa, ca. 1890s; Freer|Sackler Archives; FSA A.01 12.03.02

Freer meets Ernest Fenollosa a scholar-dealer who proves to be a key advisor in Freer's quest to become a connoisseur of Japanese and Chinese art. Photographic portrait of Ernest Fenollosa, ca.

1906: Freer develops a keen interest in Egypt’s ancient art and monuments with his first trip there. He acquires the fifth-century biblical manuscript known as the Washington Manuscript of the Gospels, the third-oldest extant parchment codex of the Gospels. St. Mark and St. Luke; right cover of the Washington Manuscript of the Gospels; Egypt, Byzantine period, 7th century; encaustic painting on wooden panel; Gift of Charles Lang Freer; F1906.298

Mark and St. Right cover of The Washington Manuscript of the Gospels Encaustic painting on wooden panel Egypt century Byzantine period Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M.

1906: Freer acquires a pair of six-fold screens by Tawaraya Sōtatsu from Kobayashi Bunshichi, an art dealer from Tokyo. Depicting pine-covered islands, it is considered the finest pair of Japanese screens in the Freer Gallery.  Waves at Matsushima; Tawaraya Sōtatsu 俵屋宗達 (fl. ca. 1600–1643); Japan, Edo period, 17th century; screens (six-panel, pair), ink, color, gold, and silver on paper; Gift of Charles Lang Freer; F1906.231–32

The Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery are the Smithsonian's museums of Asian art.

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