The Peacock Room in Blue and White
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The Peacock Room in Blue and White

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May 18, 2019—ongoing 
Freer Gallery of Art
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Blue-and-white Chinese porcelains once again fill the shelves of the Peacock Room, just as they did in the 1870s, when Frederick Leyland, a shipping magnate in London, dined there. Blue-and-white porcelain dating to the Kangxi period enliven the east and north walls of the Peacock Room. These pieces from the permanent collection of the Freer Gallery are similar to what Leyland would have displayed. Recently commissioned ceramics line the west and south walls. These new porcelains are part of a 1,500-year-old tradition of making porcelains in Jingdezhen, China. Porcelain production during the Kangxi period (1662–1722) expanded China’s export trade with Europe, sparked the Chinamania craze in the nineteenth century, and bolstered the East-West exchange that endures to this day. When artist James McNeill Whistler was asked to consult on colors in Leyland’s dining room, the sinuous patterns and brilliant colors of the Kangxi ware on display served as immediate inspiration. Whistler painted over the room in a flurry of blue and gold. His intricate patterns resemble the plumage of peacocks and create a tonal counterpoint to the porcelains. The Peacock Room in Blue and White allows us to experience the room in much the same way Whistler originally envisioned it. We open the shutters of the Peacock Room one afternoon per month, allowing visitors to see it in a whole new light. When the shutters are open, a flood of natural light turns the Peacock Room into a glowing jewel of blue, green, and gold tones. The natural light reveals hidden details, colors, and textures—and a special filtering film on the windows minimizes fading. The Peacock Room shutters are open on the third Thursday of each month from noon to 5:30 pm. No reservations or advanced ticketing are necessary.

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