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The National Museum of Asian Art Library originated as a collection of four thousand monographs, periodical issues, offprints, and sales catalogues that Charles Lang Freer donated to the Smithsonian Institution as part of his gift to the nation. With more than eighty-six thousand volumes, the library now is considered one of the finest repositories of Asian art resources in the United States.
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Reference desk: 202.633.0477
The library is now open to the public by appointment during the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday to Friday. To make an appointment, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Since it opened in the Freer Gallery in 1923, the library’s purpose has been to foster and stimulate study of the artistic traditions and cultures of the peoples of Asia. The library maintains the highest standards for collecting materials relevant to the history of Asian art and culture through an active program of purchases, gifts, and exchanges.
In July 1987 the library moved to its new home in the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. Today it supports activities of both museums, such as collection development, exhibition planning, publications, and other scholarly and educational projects. Its published and unpublished resources—in the fields of Asian art and archaeology, conservation, painting, sculpture, architecture, drawings, prints, manuscripts, books, and photography—are available to museum staff, outside researchers, and the visiting public.
About half of the collection consists of works in Chinese or Japanese. While the library’s predominant focus is on Asian art and archaeology, it also includes publications about American artists who were active in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and whose works are in the Freer Gallery of Art.
The library’s collection is especially strong in research materials on Japanese ceramics, painting, and woodblock prints. It also has an excellent collection of resources for the study of Chinese painting, calligraphy, ceramics, jade, Buddhist sculpture, and ancient bronzes. Its strengths in the area of ancient Near Eastern art are Sassanian metalwork, ceramics, and cylinder seals. The library also has an exceptional collection of material on Indian miniature painting and sculpture as well as on Islamic metalwork, ceramics, glass, and the arts of the book.
The library holds a number of special collections:
Japan Art Catalog Project Collection
The National Museum of Asian Art Library serves as the US depository library for the Japan Art Catalog Project. In this program, established by the Japan Association for Cultural Exchange with support from the Japan Foundation, art exhibition catalogues from Japan are given to the library to enable their use by the American public. These catalogues are available through interlibrary loan.
Rare Book Collection
The library also has a rare book collection, highlights of which include Edo period Japanese woodblock printed books and Chinese books published in the Ming and Qing dynasties.
Paul Marks Collection on James McNeill Whistler
In 2000 and 2004, scholar Paul Marks donated to the National Museum of Asian Art Library, rare books and other materials on American artist James McNeill Whistler, who was a close friend of Charles Lang Freer. This outstanding collection of more than one thousand materials was the fruitful result of many years of Marks’s painstaking efforts.
Housed separately in the Freer Gallery of Art is a collection of research materials on the conservation and restoration of Asian art.
The Smithsonian American Art Museum Library has material related to the American artists represented in the Freer Gallery of Art’s collection. The National Museum of African Art Library has works on Islamic art for those whose interest in this topic is broader than the geographic area represented by material in the National Museum of Asian Art Library collection. The Anthropology Library has an Asian culture collection, including folkloric, linguistic, and ethnographic materials that the National Museum of Asian Art Library does not collect.