art outside the box | the freer | sackler blog

It’s a Book: The Peacock Room Comes to America

The Peacock Room Comes to America

The Peacock Room has had quite a few adventures since artist James McNeill Whistler painted the London dining room in 1876. From its journey to Detroit, where it was installed in Charles Lang Freer’s home in 1904, and then to Washington, DC, where it found its permanent home in the Freer Gallery of Art in 1923, the room has many stories to tell. The museum’s recent installation The Peacock Room Comes to America shows the Peacock Room as it appeared in 1908, when Freer used it to organize and display more than 250 ceramics that he had collected throughout Asia. As opposed to the blue-and-white wares favored by previous owner Frederick Leyland, Freer preferred to fill the shelves with pots with textured surfaces and subtle green and gray glazes from Egypt, Iran, Syria, China, and Korea.

In honor of the exhibition, we’ve just published The Peacock Room Comes to America, a 64-page paperback with more than 80 color illustrations. Curator of American Art Lee Glazer takes a fresh look at the Peacock Room’s many lives, while focusing on the recent reinstallation. The book also provides insight into Whistler’s Princess from the Land of Porcelain, the conservation of the room, and the curator’s perspective on the project. New photography, bolstered by archival images, makes the book a valuable—and handsome—treasure for the Peacock Room’s many fans.

Copies of The Peacock Room Comes to America are available in the Sackler gift shop for $16.

Posted by in American Art, Exhibitions, Publications | No Comments

Cooking with Whistler’s Mother

Photomechanical reproduction in halftone, after Whistler’s portrait of his mother, “Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1,” Gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1898.93

James McNeill Whistler painted Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1, a portrait of his mother, Anna, in 1871. James was a devoted son and his mother’s arrival in London in the mid-1860s forced Whistler’s model and mistress, Joanna Heffernan, to seek other quarters.  Mrs. Whistler insisted on living with her “Jemmie” and presiding over his household.

That included the kitchen. Anna Whistler kept a diary and often recorded what she had been cooking. Her recipes, compiled by Professor Margaret MacDonald of the University of Glasgow, are filled with soups, puddings, cakes, and gingerbreads. There’s also a recipe for a peach cordial that calls for 300 peach pits and three quarts brandy and must be left for one month before opening. I’m afraid we’ll have to leave that for another time!

In honor of Anna Whistler and Mother’s Day, and the painting that has perhaps become the quintessential mom image of the art world, we present Mrs. Whistler’s recipe for a dessert called Floating Island:

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Take a cup of currant jelly, beat the whites of 3 eggs to a froth
add a spoonful of rose water then put it in a dish of cream on which it will float, sweeten your milk or cream to your taste

2 1/2 cups heavy or double cream
1 tablespoon sugar
3 egg whites
1 cup red currant jelly
1 tablespoon rose water

Whip the cream with the sugar until it stands up in peaks. Put it into a large serving dish and smooth the top. Stiffly whip the egg whites and whisk in the red currant jelly 1 tablespoon at a time. Beat in the rose water. Spoon the mixture in 8 peaks on top of the cream. Serve as soon as possible after making or the peaks will gradually subside.
Serves 8

Light, fluffy, pink islands floating on a creamy sea. A delicate combination of flavors which tastes as good as it looks.

* * *

Let us know if you give the recipe a try. If so, post some pictures on our Facebook page. Happy Mother’s Day from Bento, and remember: Mother knows best.

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Crying Fowl at the Freer!

A peacock struts his stuff in the Freer Courtyard circa 1923.

With Winged Spirits: Birds in Chinese Paintings on view in the Freer, we searched around for some more images of birds and found this photograph of a peacock in the Freer courtyard in 1923, at the time of the museum’s opening. Yes, there were live peacocks running around (okay, maybe not running), perhaps an oh-so-subtle reminder for visitors not to miss Whistler’s Peacock Room. At the time, three peacocks were lent to the museum from the National Zoo. They remained in the museum during the warmer months, but were returned to the zoo in the winter.

What do you think? Would you like to see peacocks in the Freer courtyard today?

Photo courtesy of the Archives of the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.

Posted by in American Art, Chinese Art, Exhibitions, From the Archives | No Comments

Women on the Verge of the Twentieth Century

The Carnation, 1893, Charles Wilmer Dewing, oil on wood panel, Gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1896.33a

In honor of Women’s History Month, we take a look at some of the models who posed for American artist Thomas Dewing.

As the nineteenth century gave way to the twentieth, women’s lives and their role in society began to evolve. The push for equality and the suffragist movement led to the passage of women’s right to vote in 1920. James McNeill Whistler, Thomas Dewing, Abbott Thayer, and other artists painted idealized portraits of women and often framed them in elaborate golden creations designed by architect Stanford White or, indeed, by Whistler himself. The women depicted were hardly birds in gilded cages: these models and muses had goals and dreams. Many, such as Julia Baird, were “independently minded.” This seemed to have especially pleased Dewing, who requested that all his models “should have brains.” Underneath the veneer of beauty are women on the verge of coming into their own.

These paintings became a favorite of collector Charles Lang Freer. When he began to build a new home in Detroit in 1890, he decorated his residence with many of these works.

Julia “Dudie” Baird was the model for The Carnation, as well as Portrait of a Young Girl. When Freer purchased the above work in 1892, he declared it to be a “corker.”  An actress and inveterate traveler, Baird was a prominent New York model, who posed for Saint Gaudens’ statue of Diana which he placed on top of the Madison Square Garden.

Thomas Dewing painted La Comedienne in 1906. Miss Allen, who posed for the painting, was an amateur actor. In the painting, she holds a script and is seated in front of a box of costumes, which Dewing kept in his studio for his models to pose with. The model for The Piano was Minnie Clark (the original Gibson Girl), whom Dewing later referred to as “My Piano Model.”  Dewing often portrayed young women in a musical setting as illustrative of refinement. The Piano was the first Dewing painting that Charles Lang Freer chose for his collection.

For more on American Art in the Freer|Sackler collections, click here.

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Why Bento?

Visitors in the Freer Gallery

A Closer Look at American Art

The Freer and Sackler Galleries at the Smithsonian Institution boasts some of the world’s foremost examples of Asian art (not to mention the best Whistlers this side of Glasgow). We were trying to think of a way to bring the arts and varied cultures of Asia to our museumgoers who visit us in person, and those who stop by for a virtual browse. We wanted a name that would signify Asia, show that we’re made up of more than one thing, plus become a destination for those who want a filling serving of Asia on their plate … and so, Bento was born. We hope you enjoy the blog and learning about our resources, staff, exhibitions, and special events. And please drop us a note; we’re hoping that Bento can help us break the ice and strike up a conversation!

Posted by in A Closer Look, American Art | No Comments