The juxtaposition of Asian and American art at the Freer Gallery is due largely to the influence of the expatriate American artist James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903), who played an important role in the aesthetic education of Charles Lang Freer (1854–1919), the Detroit industrialist and founder of the Freer Gallery of Art.
A choice selection of the more than 1,300 paintings, prints, and drawings by Whistler is now on view in the gallery adjacent to the Peacock Room. The works exemplify both Freer’s philosophy of collecting and Whistler’s own self-conscious synthesis of Western and Asian artistic traditions.
Highlights include a sequence of views of the Thames seen from Whistler’s residence in the Chelsea neighborhood of London, a group of Nocturnes (the artist’s term for his paintings of the moonlit urban landscape), and the so-called Six Projects, a suite of six oil studies for a long-contemplated but never-completed decorative ensemble for Frederick Richards Leyland, the original owner of the Peacock Room. Other works by Whistler, including Leyland’s portrait Arrangement in Black, are on view in the Sackler Gallery as part of Peacock Room REMIX: Darren Waterston’s Filthy Lucre.