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The Peacock Room in Context
Wednesday, September 11, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.
"The Peacock Room in Blue and White," an installation that returns the Peacock Room to its appearance in the 1870s (Freer Gallery of Art)
Please Note: This program is also available with an add-on daytime tour to the Peacock Room. Limited availability!
Long considered one of the Smithsonian’s treasures, James McNeill Whistler’s Peacock Room is an icon of aesthetic design. Despite being on permanent display at the Freer Gallery of Art, the room’s appearance has taken on different forms over the decades. The current installation, The Peacock Room in Blue and White, fills the shelves with blue-and-white Chinese porcelains, inspired by the room’s original incarnation in a London townhouse in 1876.
The room’s owner, and Whistler’s patron, Frederick Leyland took part in the “Chinamania” craze that swept Victorian England. His renowned collection of Kangxi blue-and-white porcelain filled the dining room shelves. Whistler redecorated the room in 1876 and 1877 as a “harmony in blue and gold” that would complement his painting Princess from the Land of Porcelain, which hung over the fireplace. Leyland was far from pleased with the transformation—and with the artist’s requested fee—but he kept the room intact. Whistler never saw the Peacock Room again.
For the first time in more than a century, visitors can experience the room as Whistler intended, with the intricate blue, green, and gold patterns creating a tonal counterpoint to the bolder patterns and colors of the Kangxi ware porcelains. Kerry Roeder, the Luce curatorial fellow in American art at the Freer|Sackler, and an adjunct faculty member at George Mason University, discusses the scandalous history of the room and the challenges posed by the museum’s attempt to re-create the artist’s original vision of the space.
World Art History Certificate elective: Earn 1/2 credit*
*Enrolled participants in the World Art History Certificate Program receive 1/2 elective credit. Not yet enrolled? Learn about the program, its benefits, and how to register here.
S. Dillon Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Dr SW
Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)