Past Recipients

Hands holding a golden medal in a wooden box.

The Freer Medal: Past Recipients

Dame Professor Jessica Rawson (2017)

Renowned art historian, author, academic administrator and curator Dame Professor Jessica Rawson was selected to receive the 2017 Charles Lang Freer Medal for her lifetime work in Chinese art and archeology.  The medal was presented to the noted British scholar in a private ceremony in Washington, D.C. on October 28, 2017.

“Jessica Rawson joins an extraordinarily distinguished group of recipients of the Freer Medal, and she fully merits her inclusion in this Olympian gathering, for she has made outstanding contributions to the field of Asian art as an academic and a museum professional,” said Julian Raby, the Dame Jillian Sackler Director of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the Freer Gallery of Art. “Her research has been pioneering and rigorous. Grounded in material culture, Jessica’s scholarship has shed light on the uses and significance of ancient objects and on the transmission of objects and ideas across cultures. As a museum professional her work has been consummate.”

Throughout her career, Rawson, former keeper of the Department of Oriental Antiquities at the British Museum and currently professor of Chinese art and archaeology at the University of Oxford, has advanced the understanding of these areas including the relationship between people of China and Inner Asia. Her publications have covered extensive topics and time periods, including the Bronze Age and the Han, Tang and Qing dynasties.

She is the author of numerous books, including Ancient China: Art & Archaeology(1980), Chinese Ornament: The Lotus and the Dragon(1984), Chinese Bronzes: Art and Ritual(1987), Western Zhou Ritual Bronzes from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections(1990), Chinese Jade from the Neolithic to the Qing(1995), British Museum Book of Mysteries of Ancient China(1996) and with Evelyn Rawski (eds.) China: The Three Emperors, 1662–1795(2005) and numerous articles and book chapters, including “The Han Empire and Its Northern Neighbors: The Fascinations with the Exotic” and in James Lin (ed.) “The Search for Immortality: Tomb Treasures of Han China.”

During the course of her career, Rawson has been involved in a number of prominent exhibitions, including the British Museum’s “Mysteries of Ancient China” in 1996, and she was lead curator on the exhibition and catalog “China: The Three Emperors 16621795,” a Royal Academy of Arts exhibition presented in 20056.

In addition to her research, Rawson has taken leadership roles at museums and universities. Following studies at the University of Cambridge, she embarked on a promising career in the British civil service, which she left to pursue her long-standing passion for Chinese art. Between 1976 and 1994, she served as deputy keeper and then keeper of the Department of Oriental Antiquities at the British Museum, before being appointed warden of Merton College, University of Oxford. She served as the university’s pro-vice-chancellor from 2006 to 2011.

Rawson’s career has been marked by honors and recognition from her peers and government. She is a Fellow of the British Academy and a member of the Scholars’ Council of the Kluge Center at the Library of Congress and the Art Fund’s Advisory Council. She was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2002 for services to oriental studies. In 2012, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences as a Foreign Honorary Member.

Award Booklet

John Rosenfield (2012)

Art historian John Max Rosenfield was selected to receive the 2012 Charles Lang Freer Medal in recognition of his contribution to the field of Asian art history. Rosenfield, the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Professor of East Asian Art, Emeritus, at Harvard University, became the thirteenth recipient of the award at a ceremony on April 12, 2012. Born in 1924 in Dallas, Rosenfield studied art at the University of Texas, Austin, before enlisting in the US Army during World War II. He took his first trips to Asia (India, China, Korea, and Japan) during his military service. Upon returning to the United States, Rosenfield studied at the University of California, Berkeley; Southern Methodist University; and the University of Iowa, earning a BLS, BFA, and MFA before receiving his PhD in art history from Harvard University (1959). Following teaching positions at the University of Iowa and University of California, Los Angeles, he joined the Harvard faculty in 1966. During his twenty-five years at Harvard, Professor Rosenfield held a variety of posts, including the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Professor of East Asian Art, chairman of the Department of Fine Arts, curator of Asian art at the Fogg Art Museum, and director of Harvard University Art Museums.

Rosenfield’s numerous publications deal with Indian and Central Asian Buddhist arts of the Kushan period, Japanese Buddhist painting and sculpture, and early modern Japanese painting. His 2010 book Portraits of Chōgen: The Transformation of Buddhist Art in Early Medieval Japan represents the first significant study of Chōgen to be published in the West. He has lectured widely, organized several exhibitions of Japanese art, and served on various boards, including those of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Japan Society. Rosenfield also was chair of the editorial board of the Archives of Asian Art and of the Freer and Sackler’s Shimada Prize Committee.

Throughout his career, Professor Rosenfield has focused on fostering a mutual understanding between Japan and the United States. He has received several awards for his efforts, including the 19th Yamagata Banto prize in 2001, which recognized his contributions to spreading Japanese culture outside Japan.

Award Booklet

James Cahill (2010)

James Cahill, former curator of Chinese art at the Freer Gallery of Art and eminent scholar in many topics of Chinese art history, was awarded the Charles Lang Freer Medal in recognition of a lifetime of seminal contributions to his field. Cahill is the 12th recipient of the Freer Medal, which he received on Thursday, Nov. 18 at 11:00 a.m. in a public ceremony in the Freer’s Meyer Auditorium.

Over the years, Cahill’s scholarly writings and collaborative projects with other prominent Chinese art specialists have played an important role in the development of Chinese art history studies internationally. A specialist in Chinese painting, he has worked on major artists and their masterworks as well as lesser known painters, thereby broadly expanding subjects of study.

Born in 1926 at Fort Bragg, California, Cahill received his B.A. in Oriental Languages from University of California Berkeley (1950), followed by his M.A. (1952) and PhD (1958) in art history from the University of Michigan. In 1956 he traveled to Stockholm to work with Osvald Siren, a renowned Swedish scholar (and first recipient of the Freer Medal) on his monumental seven–volume Chinese Painting: Leading Masters and Principles.

Later that year (1956) Cahill joined the Freer as curator of Chinese art. Destined for a leading role in the research and interpretation of Chinese painting, Cahill painstakingly surveyed the Freer’s extensive collection, leaving detailed observations that are still regularly quoted today. Working with colleagues John A. Pope, Rutherford J. Gettens, and Noel Barnard, he also produced the landmark publication, The Freer Chinese Bronzes (Smithsonian Institution, 1967), a work centered on the museum’s important collection of archaic Chinese ritual vessels.

In 1965 Cahill returned to California to join the History of Art Department at UC Berkeley, where he taught until his retirement in 1994. In 1973 he was a member of the esteemed “Chinese Archaeology Delegation,” the first group of art historians to visit China from the U.S., and in 1977 he returned to China as chairman of the “Chinese Old Painting Delegation,” which was given unprecedented access to painting collections there. He has received two Distinguished Lifetime achievement awards from the College Art Association and is currently professor emeritus in the History of Art department at UC Berkeley.

Award Booklet (PDF, 700kb)