Charles Lang Freer Papers

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  • Overview

    The personal papers of Charles Lang Freer, the industrialist and art collector who founded the Freer Gallery of Art. The papers include correspondence, diaries, art inventories, scrapbooks of clippings on James McNeil Whistler and other press clippings, and photographs.
  • Creator

    Freer, Charles Lang, 1856-1919
  • Dates

  • Physical Description

    131 Linear feet (29 architectural drawings)
  • Collection ID


  • Scope Content

    The personal papers of Charles Lang Freer, the industrialist and art collector who founded the Freer Gallery of Art. The papers include correspondence, diaries, art inventories, scrapbooks of clippings on James McNeil Whistler and other press clippings, financial material, architectural drawings, and photographs.

    Correspondence, circa 1860-1921, includes Freer's correspondence, 1876-1920, with artists, dealers, collectors, museums, and public figures; letterpress books contain copies of Freer's outgoing letters, 1892-1910; correspondence collected by Freer of James McNeill Whistler, and his wife Beatrix, 186?-1909, with Lady Colin Campbell, Thomas R. Way, Alexander Reid, Whistler's mother, Mrs. George W. Whistler, and others; correspondence of Whistler collector Richard A. Canfield, 1904-1913, regarding works in Canfield's collection; and correspondence of Freer's assistant, Katharine Nash Rhoades, 1920-1921, soliciting Freer's letters from his associates, and regarding the settlement of his estate.

    Also included are twenty-nine pocket diaries, 1889-1890, 1892-1898, 1900-1919, recording daily activities, people and places visited, observations, and comments; a diary kept by Freer's caretaker, Joseph Stephens Warring, recording daily activities at Freer's Detroit home, 1907-1910. Inventories, n.d. and 1901-1921, of American, European, and Asian art in Freer's collection, often including provenance information; vouchers, 1884-1919, documenting his purchases; five volumes of scrapbooks of clippings on James McNeill Whistler, 1888-1931, labeled "Various," "Peacock Room," "Death, etc.," "Paris, etc.," and "Boston...London" ; three volumes of newsclippings, 1900-1930, concerning Freer and the opening of the Freer Gallery of Art.

    Correspondence regarding Freer's gift and bequest to the Smithsonian Institution, 1902-1916; and photographs, ca. 1880-1930, of Freer, including portraits by Alvin Langdon Coburn and Edward Steichen, Freer with others, Freer in Cairo, China and Japan, Freer's death mask, and his memorial service, Kyoto, 1930; photographs of artists and others, including Thomas Dewing, Ernest Fenollosa, Katharine Rhoades taken by Alfred Stieglitz, Rosalind B. Philip, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Abbott H. Thayer, Dwight Tryon, and Whistler; and photographs relating to Whistler, including art works depicting him, grave and memorial monuments, works of art, the Peacock Room, and Whistler's memorial exhibition at the Copley Society.
  • Biographical Note

    1854 February 25 -- Born in Kingston, New York

    1873 -- Appointed accountant and paymaster of New York, Kingston and Syracuse Railroad by Frank J. Hecker (1846-1927)

    1876 -- Moves to Indiana to work, with Hecker, for the Detroit and Eel River and Illinois Railroad

    1880 -- Moves to Detroit, participates in organization of the Peninsular Car Works with Hecker

    1883 -- Becomes vice president and secretary of Peninsular Car Company when it succeeds Peninsular Car Works

    1883 -- Begins collecting European prints

    1884 -- Peninsular Car Company constructs plant on Ferry Avenue

    1887 -- Meets Howard Mansfield (1849-1938)

    1887 -- Acquires proofs of 26 etchings, Venice, Second Series(1886), by James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903)

    1887 -- Purchases a small Japanese fan attributed to Ogata Korin(1658-1715)

    1887 -- Buys land on Ferry Avenue

    1889 -- Meets Frederick Stuart Church (1826-1900) and Dwight William Tryon (1849-1925) in New York

    1890 -- Commissions Wilson Eyre (1858-1944) to design house on Ferry Avenue, Detroit, Michigan

    1890 -- On first trip to London, meets James McNeill Whistler(1834-1903)

    1892 -- Moves to Ferry Avenue house

    1892 -- Tryon and Thomas Wilmer Dewing (1851-1938) undertake decoration of reception rooms

    1893 -- Lends American paintings to World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago

    1893 -- Purchases first piece of Chinese art, a small painting of white herons by an anonymous Ming dynasty (1368-1644) artist

    1894 -- Begins yearlong trip around the world, which includes visit to the Whistlers in Paris and first trip to Asia, stopping in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), India, China, and Japan

    1896 -- Meets Matsuki Bunkyo (1867-1940) in Boston

    1899 -- Takes part in consolidation of railroad-car building companies then retires from active business

    1900 -- Attends Exposition International Universelle in Paris

    1900 -- Buys villa in Capri with Thomas S. Jerome

    1901 -- Meets Siegfried Bing (1838-1905) in Paris and Ernest Fenollosa(1853-1908), who visits Freer in Detroit

    1902 -- Meets Dikran Kelekian (1868-1951)

    1902 -- Spends summer in Britain building Whistler collection

    1902 -- Views Whistler's, Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room

    1904 -- Purchases Whistler's Peacock Room

    1904 -- Offers his art collections and funds to build a museum in which to house them to the Smithsonian Institution

    1905 -- Smithsonian committee visits Freer in Detroit

    1906 -- United States government formally accepts Freer's gift on January 24

    1906 -- Freer signs Deed of Gift to Smithsonian Institution on May 5

    1907 -- On second tour of Asia, meets Hara Tomitaro 1868-1939) in Yokohama, Japan

    1908 -- Takes third trip to Asia, specifically to West Asia to study Rakka ware

    1909 -- Tours Europe to study art museums

    1909 -- On fourth trip to Asia, attends memorial ceremony for Fenollosa (d.1908 September) at Miidera, Japan, and meets Duanfang (1861-1911) in China

    1910 -- On last trip to Asia, visits Longmen Buddhist caves in China

    1911 -- Suffers stroke

    1912 -- Lends selection of objects for exhibition at Smithsonian Institution

    1913 -- Meets Eugene (1875-1957) and Agnes E. (1887-1970) Meyer

    1913 -- Commissions Charles Adams Platt (1861-1933) to design museum building in Washington

    1914 -- Meets Katharine Nash Rhoades (1885-1965) in Detroit

    1915 -- Settles in New York City

    1915 -- Site of future Freer Gallery of Art is determined

    1916 -- Platt's plans for Freer Gallery are approved by Smithsonian Regents and Commission of Fine Arts and ground is broken in September

    1918 -- After falling ill in Detroit, Freer travels to New York for treatment

    1918 -- Work on the museum building is delayed by the war

    1919 -- Freer appends codicil to will permitting acquisitions of Asian, Egyptian, and Near Eastern (West Asian) art

    1919 -- Dies in New York City on 25 September and is buried in Kingston, New York

    1919 -- Construction of Freer Gallery completed

    1920 -- John Ellerton Lodge (1876-1942) is appointed director of the Freer Gallery

    1923 -- Freer Gallery opens to the public on May 9

    1930 -- Memorial ceremony for Freer is held at Koetsuji, Kyoto

    Charles Lang Freer was an American industrialist who founded the Freer Gallery of Art. He was a well-known collector of Asian art, and strongly supported the synthesis of Eastern art and Western art. One of his most famous acquisitions was James McNeill Whistler's Peacock Room.
  • Index

    Index to cross-referenced correspondents in the series Charles Lang Freer correspondence

    Beal, Junius E. -- See: -- Warring, Joseph Stephens

    Black, George M. -- See: -- Saint-Gaudens, Augustus

    Board of Education (Kingston, New York) See: Michael, M. J.

    Bonner, Campbell See: University of Michigan

    Boughton, George H. See: Yardley, F. C.

    British Museum See: Binyon, Laurence; Hobson, R. L.

    Brown, Harold H. See: Art Association of Indianapolis

    Buchner, Evelyn B. See: Knoedler, M., and Company

    Buckholder, C. H. See: Art Institute of Chicago

    Butler, S. B. See: Unidentified correspondents

    Carnegie Institute See: Balken, Edward Duff; Harshe, Robert B.

    Carpenter, Newton H. See: Art Institute of Chicago

    Caulkins, Horace James See: Pewabic Pottery

    Chao, Shih-chin See: Gunn, Chu Su

    Chicago & North Western Railway Co. See: Hughett, Marvin

    Clark, Charles Upson See: Clark, Arthur B.

    Cleveland Museum of Art See: Whiting, Frederic Allen

    Columbia University See: Braun, W. A.; Gottheil, Richard; Hirth, Friederich

    Commission of Fine Arts See: Moore, Charles

    Corcoran Gallery of Art See: Minnigerode, C. Powell

    Crocker, Anna B. See: Portland Art Association

    Dannenberg, D. E. See: Karlbeck, Orvar

    De Menoncal, Beatrice See: Lien, Hui Ch'ing Collection

    De Ricci, Seymour See: Ricci, Seymour de

    Defnet, William A., Mrs., See: Franke, Ida M.

    DeMotte See: Vigouroux, J.

    Detroit Institute of Arts See: Detroit Museum of Art

    Detroit Publishing Company See: Livingstone, W. A.

    Detroit School of Design See: George Hamilton; Stevens, Henry

    DeVinne Press See: Peters, Samuel T.; Witherspoon, A. S.

    Dyrenforth, P. C. See: Philip, Rosalind Birnie

    Eddy, Arthur J. See: Philip, Rosalind Birnie

    Eggers, George Williams See: Art Institute of Chicago

    Farr, Daniel H. See: Robinson and Farr

    Farrand School (Detroit) See: Yendall, Edith

    Field Museum of Natural History (Chicago) See: Laufer, Berthold

    Flagg, Frederick J. See: Allen, Horace N.

    Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University See: Forbes, Edward; Pope, Arthur Upham; Sachs, Paul J.

    French, M. R. See: Art Institute of Chicago

    Fu, Lan-ya See: Pang, Lai-ch'en

    Fujii, Yoshio See: Yoshio, Fujii

    Gerrity, Thomas See: Knoedler, M., and Company

    Goupil Gallery See: Marchant, William

    Gray, William J. See: Barr, Eva

    Great Lakes Engineering Works See: Hoyt, H. W.

    Grolier Club See: Philip, Rosalind Birnie

    Heinemann, W. See: Philip, Rosalind Birnie

    Holden, Edward S. See: West Point, U. S. Military Academy

    Hudson, J. L. See: Weber, William C.

    Hutchins, Harry B. See: University of Michigan

    Hutchins, Charles L. See: Art Institute of Chicago

    Kelekian, H. G. See: Kelekian, Dikran G.

    Kent, H. W. See: Metropolitan Museum of Art

    Lee, Kee Son See: Li, Chi-ch'un

    Levy, John See: Schneider, A. K.

    Library of Congress See: Rice, Richard A.; Wright, Helen

    Louvre (Paris, France) See: Midgeon, Gaston

    Matsuki, Z. See: Matsuki, Kihachiro

    McKim, Mead and White See: White, Stanford

    Mills, A. L., Colonel See: Saint-Gaudens, Augustus

    Miner, Luella See: Lien, Hui Ch'ing Collection

    Minneapolis Institute of Arts See: Breck, Joseph; Van Derlip, John R.

    Monif, R. Khan See: Rathbun, Richard

    Museum of Fine Arts, Boston See: Lodge, John Ellerton

    Naser, Katen & Nahass See: Katen, K.

    Nordlinger, Marie, Miss See: Meyer-Riefstahl, Marie

    Panama Pacific International Exposition See: Moore, Charles C.; Trask, John E. D.

    Peabody Museum See: Morse, Edward Sylvester

    Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts See: Trask, John E. D.

    Perry, Mary Chase, Miss., See: Pewabic Pottery

    Philip, Ronald M. See: Philip, Rosalind Birnie

    Pope, G. D. See: Barr, Eva

    Reinhart, A. G. See: Gottschalk, E.

    Reitz, Sigisbert Chrétien Bosch See: Bosch-Reitz, Sigisbert Chrétien

    Rutgers College See: Van Dyke, John C.

    Saint-Gaudens, Augusta H. See: Saint-Gaudens, Augustus

    Saint-Gaudens, Homer See: Saint-Gaudens, Augustus

    Samurai Shokai See: Nomura, Yozo

    San Francisco Art Association See: Laurvik, J. Nilsen

    Scribner's, Charles, Sons See: Van Dyke, John C.

    Shaw, Wilfred B. See: University of Michigan

    Shirae, S. Z. See: Yamanaka and Company

    Smith College See: Clark, Arthur B.

    Smithsonian Institution See: Holmes, William Henry; Rathbun, Richard; Ravenel, Walcott, Charles D.

    Society of Arts and Crafts (Detroit) See: Plumb, Helen

    Societe des Beaux-Arts See: Reid, Alexander

    Stevens, George W. See: Toledo Museum of Art

    Stratton, Mary Chase Perry See: Pewabic Pottery

    Tanaka, Kichijiro See: Yamanaka and Company

    Tuttle, William F. See: Art Institute of Chicago

    Union Trust Company (Detroit) See: Philip, Rosalind Birnie

    United States Military Academy See: West Point, U. S. Military Academy

    University of Chicago See: Zug, George Breed

    University of Pennsylvania, Univ. Mus. See: Gordon, George Bryon

    Ushikubo, D. J. R. See: Yamanaka and Company

    Wallis & Son See: Barr, Eva; Thompson, C. Croal Ward, Clarence See: Oberlin College

    Warren, Edward K. See: Philip, Rosalind Birnie

    Warring, Stephen See: Warring, Joseph Stephens

    Watkin, Williams R. T. See: Philip, Rosalind Birnie

    Watson, Margaret, Miss See: Parker, Margaret Watson

    Whistler, Anna See: Stanton, Anna Whistler

    Whiting, Almon C. See: Toledo Museum of Art

    Williams College See: Rice, Richard A

    Wright, F. G. See: Orbach and Company

    Yatsuhashi, H. See: Yamanaka and Company
    Index to cross-referenced correspondence in the series Whistler correspondence

    Bell, William See: Unidentified correspondents

    Brown, Ernest See: Painter Etchers' Society, Committee

    Cowen, John T. See subseries: Charles Lang Freer Correspondence

    Ford, Sheridan See: Reid, Alexander

    Haden, Francis Seymour See: Painter Etchers' Society, Committee

    Haden, Francis Seymour, Lady See: Haden, Deborah Whistler

    Leighton, Frederick, Baron See: Campbell, Lady Colin

    Moore, Albert See: Reid, Alexander

    Morley, Charles See: Pall Mall Gazette

    Morris, Harrison S. See: Reid, Alexander

    Pennell, Joseph See: Miscellaneous typescripts

    Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts See: Reid, Alexander

    Prange, F. G. See: Reid, Alexander

    Societe des Beaux-Arts See: Reid, Alexander

    Society of Portrait Painters See: Reid, Alexander

    Stevens Fine Art See: Reid, Alexander

    Studd, Arthur See: Miscellaneous typescripts

    [Vanderbilt?], George, Mrs. See: George, Mrs.

    Whistler, William McNeill, Mrs. See: Whistler, Nellie

    Whistler Memorial Committee See: Miscellaneous typescripts
  • Creator

    Freer, Charles Lang, 1856-1919
  • Index: Richard Albert Canfield correspondence

    Index to cross-referenced correspondence in the series Richard Albert Canfield correspondence

    Albright[-Knox] Art Gallery -- See: Kurz, Charles M.; Sage, Cornelia Bentley

    Linde, Max -- See: Grier, J.

    Oppenheimer, Joseph -- See: Grier, J.

    Pennell, Joseph -- See: Sage, Cornelia Bentley
  • Index: Katharine Nash Rhoades correspondence

    Index to cross-referenced correspondence in the series Katharine Nash Rhoades correspondence

    Franke, Ida M. -- See: Defnet, Mrs. William A.

    Watson, Margaret, Miss -- See: Parker, Margaret Watson
  • Place

    London (England)
    Boston (Mass.)
    Detroit (Mich.)
    Washington (D.C.)
    Kandy (Sri Lanka)
    Sri Lanka
    Anuradhapura (Sri Lanka)
  • Topic

    Art, American -- Collectors and collecting
    Art, Asian -- Collectors and collecting
    Art -- Collectors and collecting
    Architecture -- Asia
  • Provenance

    Gift of the Estate of Charles Lang Freer.
  • See more items in

    Charles Lang Freer Papers
  • Archival Repository

    Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives
  • Type

    Collection descriptions
    Archival materials
    Financial records
  • Citation

    Charles Lang Freer Papers. FSA A.01. National Museum of Asian Art Archives. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. Gift of the estate of Charles Lang Freer.
  • Organization of the Papers

    This collection is organized into twelve series.

    Series 1: Genealogical and Biographical Data

    Series 2: Correspondence

    Series 3: Diaries

    Series 4: Freer Colleague Materials

    Series 5: Art Inventories

    Series 6: Financial Materials

    Series 7: Exhibition Loan Files

    Series 8: Biblical Manuscripts and Gold Treasure Files

    Series 9: American School of Archaeology in China

    Series 10: Printed Material

    Series 11: Outsize Material

    Series 12: Photographs
  • Processing Information

    Processed by archivist Colleen Hennessey and Linda Machado.
  • Rights

    Permission to publish, quote, or reproduce must be secured from the repository.
  • Existence and Location of Copies note

    Portions of the papers microfilmed by the Archives of American Art. Microfilm available at the National Museum of Asian Art Library, the Archives of American Art, and through interlibrary loan.
  • Bibliography

    The following publications reference and shed light on items in the Freer papers.

    Brunk, T.W. -- (1997). -- Annotated Charles L. Freer ceramic records inventory -- . Thesis (Ph. D.). Cincinnati, Ohio: -- Union Institute, the Graduate School -- .

    Lawton, T. & Merrill, L. -- (1993). -- Freer: A legacy of art -- . Washington, D.C.: -- Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution -- with New York: -- H.N. Abrams.

    Merrill, L. -- (ed.). (1995). -- With kindest regards: The correspondence of Charles Lang Freer and James McNeill Whistler 1890-1903 -- . Washington, D.C.: -- Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution -- in association with Washington, D.C.: -- Smithsonian Institution Press.
  • Genre/Form

    Financial records
  • Restrictions

    Collection is open for research.
  • Related Material

    The Archives of American Art microfilmed portions of the Freer papers in 1992. The microfilm is available at the Archives of American Art's Washington D.C. office, the Freer Gallery of Art Library, and through interlibrary loan.

Repository Contact

Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives
National Museum of Asian Art Archives
Washington, D.C. 20013