The Peacock Room started as a dining space in the London mansion of Frederick Leyland. After Leyland died in 1892, the room was put up for sale in its entirety. Charles Lang Freer, the founder of this museum, purchased it and had it reinstalled in his Detroit home, using the space to display his own growing collection of ceramics from across Asia. After Freer’s death in 1919, the entire room traveled again, this time from Detroit to Washington, DC, where it has been on permanent display as a source of inspiration for artists and the public since the museum’s opening in 1923.
London, United Kingdom (1877–1906)
The Peacock Room in Leyland’s London home displayed his Kangxi ware, the blue-and-white porcelain dating from the reign of the Chinese Kangxi emperor (reigned 1662–1722). As so-called “Chinamania” swept Europe, Kangxi porcelain collectors like Leyland amassed collections and displayed them in rooms designed to showcase them most effectively. See historical photographs of the Peacock Room in London now held by the Smithsonian Archives. The Peacock Room in Blue and White exhibition recreated the appearance of the Peacock Room with Chinese porcelain works similar to those that Leyland owned.
Detroit, Michigan (1906–1919)
Charles Lang Freer purchased the Peacock Room from British fine art dealer Obach & Co. in 1904. The record of purchase can be viewed in the Smithsonian’s digital archives. In 1906, Freer installed it at his home in Detroit. Unlike Leyland, Freer was not fond of blue-and-white porcelain, preferring to experiment with arrangements of his own diverse collection of Asian ceramics. In Detroit, the shelves of the Peacock Room featured works in the brown, green, blue, and iridescent glazes of Syrian Raqqa ware, Chinese Han pottery, and Korean celadon. Historical photographs of the Peacock Room in Detroit are digitally available from the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives. The exhibition The Peacock Room Comes to America features Freer’s personal collection of ceramics installed in the space.
* The street address of Charles Lang Freer’s house in Detroit was changed on January 1, 1921, after a major street renumbering project.
Washington, DC (1923–present)
The Peacock Room was included in Freer’s gift to the Smithsonian upon his death in 1919. When the Freer Gallery of Art opened in 1923, the room was on view. Since its permanent move to Washington, DC, the Peacock Room remains a dynamic space where changing exhibitions draw attention to different aspects of its history, including reinterpretations by contemporary artists and curators. The Peacock Room Revealed cleared the shelves to allow an unobstructed appreciation of the room’s finest details and of Whistler’s brushwork, while Peacock Room REMIX: Darren Waterston’s “Filthy Lucre” highlighted the room’s fraught history by inviting contemporary artist Darren Waterston to envision the space in a state of decay.