The Story of the Beautiful is a research collaboration between the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art, and Wayne State University’s Library System, supported in part with grants from the Smithsonian Web 2.0 Fund, the Mr. and Mrs. Raymond J. Horowitz Foundation for the Arts, and the Henry Luce Foundation.

La Princesse du pays de la porcelaine (The Princess from the Land of Porcelain)

The project began with the recognition that the story of the Peacock Room—one of many “stories of the beautiful” represented in the Freer’s collections of the arts of Asia and the American Aesthetic movement—is especially well-suited to the narrative possibilities of the web. The site thus functions both as a digital archive and as an immersive virtual environment in which users can explore the room, learn about the objects it has contained, and see how the places and faces associated with the room contributed to its history. Anchored by the three virtual tours, the site offers users a deeply contextualized way to navigate the collections: some 400 digital objects, among them the room itself, the objects it has contained, as well as archival materials such as photographs, bills of sale, and correspondence.

Through this site, the Peacock Room—an icon of the Aesthetic movement—is now universally accessible in a way that is as dynamic and multifaceted as the room itself. The site’s deeper significance lies in demonstrating two aspects of "the story of the beautiful": that Whistler’s notion of art history as a transhistorical, transcultural “story of the beautiful” influenced the collecting philosophy of his most important patron, Charles Lang Freer; and that stories of the beautiful are far from ever being complete. They are continually retold, shaped by individual biography; travel; the circulation of artistic objects; changes in critical reception; social, commercial, and aesthetic networks; and other modes of cosmopolitanism.

We hope that sharing these multiple layers of content with our visitors will enrich their appreciation of the room and inspire them to become active partners in adding to our understanding through commenting, tagging, and sharing. We also hope that this virtual experience will prompt you to visit—or revisit—the real Peacock Room in the Freer Gallery of Art.

The Detroit version of the room was installed in the Freer Gallery in April 2011 for the exhibition The Peacock Room Comes to America. The current version of the room was installed in the Freer Gallery in May 2019 for the exhibition The Peacock Room in Blue and White.


Many individuals and departments at the Freer and Sackler and Wayne State contributed their time, energy, and expertise to this project. Among museum staff, we would especially like to thank Colleen Dugan, John Tsantes, Robert Harrell, and Neil Greentree for the stunning high resolution photography; David Hogge, former archivist at the Freer and Sackler, for his help in locating and scanning numerous documents; Jeff Smith for his work on the database; Liz Cheng for technical advice; Nancy Eickel for her sharp editorial eye; and Tim Kirk, Christina Popenfus, Brian Abrams, John Piper, Teak Lynner, Ellen Chase, and Jennifer Bosworth for preparing the Freer ceramics for display and installing them so beautifully in the Peacock Room. We are indebted to Louise Cort, former curator of Asian ceramics, who helped us identify the pots in the 1908 iteration of the room; Jan Stuart, the Melvin R. Seiden Curator of Chinese Art, for her expertise regarding the Chinese porcelains; Michelle Dacus Carr, who wrote many of the stories about the ceramics; and Tyler Boenecke for assisting with the early stages of the project. At Wayne State, we’re grateful for the support of two Deans of the Libraries, Dr. Sandra Yee & Dr. Jon Cawthorne, to Director of Discovery Services Elliot Polak, and to Meghan Finch, Beck Caterina, Clayton Hayes and Joseph Gajda, who have been especially helpful managing many technical and data-intensive aspects of creating the digital archive, story pages, and the two interactive panoramas.

Project team:


Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

Kerry Roeder, Curatorial fellow in American art

Amelia Meyer, Assistant editor

Wayne State University Libraries

Mike Dutkewych, Multimedia specialist

Maria Nuccilli, Web developer


Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

Lee Glazer, Curator of American art

Maya Foo, Curatorial assistant

Wayne State University Libraries

Shawn McCann, Immersive Learning Librarian

Paul Gallagher, Associate Director, Discovery Services

Dina Mein, Director, New Media and Information Technology

Matt Decker, Associate Director, Digital Library Initiatives

Jonathan McGlone, Scholarly Publishing Librarian


Wayne State University Libraries

Joshua Neds-Fox, Coordinator for Digital Publishing

Graham Hukill, Digital Publishing Librarian

Cole Hudson, Digital Publishing Librarian

2020 website supported by

Henry Luce Foundation