Visual History

Explore a visual history of the room

The history of the Peacock Room is best understood as a story in two parts. James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), the artist who redecorated the room as a total work of art, stands at the center of the story. On either side are his two most important patrons: Frederick Leyland (1831-1892), the ship owner from Liverpool who sought to transform his London mansion into a palace of art, and Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), the American industrialist whose collections of Asian and American art form the basis of the Freer Gallery of Art. In 1904 Freer purchased the Peacock Room in London and had it reassembled in his Detroit mansion. There, its "story of the beautiful" differed from the one it had in London. There, Leyland was under the sway of "Chinamania," a craze for blue-and-white porcelains of the Kangxi era that swept London in the 1870s. Freer, who did not collect such pieces, instead displayed a variety of ceramics from all over Asia that he felt represented universal aesthetic harmonies.

Following Freer's death in 1919, the Peacock Room was transported to Washington, D.C., and installed in the new Freer Gallery of Art. Located between the Chinese galleries and rooms devoted to Whistler and other American artists, the Peacock Room functions as a literal link between the Asian and American collections in the museum.