Two Buildings, One Museum
The Freer Gallery of Art
When the Freer Gallery opened to the public in 1923, it became the first art museum on the National Mall. This marked a turning point in access to the arts and enabled visitors to view American paintings from the Aesthetic Movement of the late nineteenth century, as well as the arts of China, Egypt, the Indian subcontinent, Japan, Korea, and the Islamic world. There were even live peacocks roaming the courtyards freely up until the 1970s. Imagine that! The origin of the Freer Gallery, however, began in 1906, when Charles Lang Freer gave his collection of Asian and American art to the nation, a gift he had proposed to President Theodore Roosevelt a year before. Over the next decade, Freer spent several years researching museums to determine the best design for his art gallery, eventually deciding on a modified version of an Italian renaissance palazzo. In fact, in a meeting with architect Charles Platt at the Plaza Hotel in New York City, Freer jotted down his ideas for a classical, well-proportioned building on a piece of hotel stationery. He believed an Italianate structure with a porticoed courtyard would best unite his ideas about experiencing art and aesthetics, including scale, proportion, harmony, and repose. Platt realized Freer’s vision by designing a classical museum with spaces that enabled visitors to explore the differences as well as find interesting connections in the arts from around the world, both ancient and contemporary, and inform the expansion of Smithsonian museums and galleries to follow.