In 1876, shipping magnate Frederick Leyland hired his friend, artist James McNeill Whistler, to redecorate the dining room of his London townhouse. Leyland also used the space to display his prized collection of Chinese blue-and-white porcelain. Whistler totally reimagined the space as a “harmony in blue and gold,” covering the doors, ceiling, and walls with peacock-inspired designs. Leyland was far from pleased with the transformation and the artist’s fee. He quarrelled with Whistler, but he kept the room intact.
Collector Charles Lang Freer purchased the room in 1904. He had it taken apart, shipped across the Atlantic, and reassembled in his home in Detroit, Michigan. There, he gradually filled its shelves with ceramics he collected from Syria, Iran, Japan, China, and Korea. Unlike Leyland’s preference for intricately decorated blue-and-white porcelain, Freer favored objects in monochromatic tones with matte, textured surfaces, and he arranged them on the Peacock Room’s shelves largely by color. For Freer, the room embodied his belief that “all works of art go together, whatever their period.” In the Peacock Room, artists and scholars gathered to examine Freer’s ceramics and to seek out unexpected resonances across cultures and eras. The Peacock Room Comes to America invites visitors into this captivating environment to do the same.