The Peacock Room: Seeing is Believing

The Peacock Room by James McNeill Whistler
(American, 1834–1903). 1876–1877.
Freer Gallery of Art
F1904.61

The ‘”other” Linda Merrill (aka art historian and former curator of the Freer Gallery of the Smithsonian; aka the really smart Linda Merrill) wrote an excellent piece in yesterdays Wall Street Journal about the amazingly beautiful Peaocock Room that is part of the Freer Gallery of Art collection in Washington, DC. Designed by interior architect Thomas Jeckyll for shipping magnate Frederick Leyland, this dining room in his London home was meant to house Leyland’s collection of Chinese porcelain and American artist James McNeill Whistler’s painting La Princesse du pay de la Porcelein. When nearly completed, Mr. Jeckyll asked Mr. Whistler, who was working on another part of the house, to help with final color choices. Mr. Whistler then took over the room and thus began the battle of art vs. commerce and the egos of the two men – Whistler and Leyland. The result… well, read Linda’s article and feast your eyes on the images below.

La Princesse du pays de la porcelaine, 1863-64, by James McNeill Whistler (American, 1834-1903).
Oil on canvas, 199.9 x 116.1 cm. Gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1903.91

Central shutters on the east side of Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room, 1876-77, by James McNeill Whistler (American, 1834-1903). Oil paint and metal leaf on leather, canvas, and wood, 4.2 x 10 x 6 m. Gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1904.61

Detail of the central shutters on the east side of Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room, 1876-77, by James McNeill Whistler (American, 1834-1903). Oil paint and metal leaf on leather, canvas, and wood, 4.2 x 10 x 6 m. Gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1904.61

Southeast corner of Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room, 1876-77, by James McNeill Whistler (American, 1834-1903). Oil paint and metal leaf on leather, canvas, and wood, 4.2 x 10 x 6 m. Gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1904.61

Detail: South wall mural of Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room, 1876-77, by James McNeill Whistler (American, 1834-1903). Oil paint and metal leaf on leather, canvas, and wood, 4.2 x 10 x 6 m. Gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1904.61
I haven’t seen this room in person yet, but I did read (ok, tried to read, as I said, she’s the smart one) her massive tome on the subject and it’s a truly fascinating story. The stuff of legend. Actually, I think it would make a really good movie or play in the hands of the right writer and actors. Titans of their professions square off in a duel of ego and power, art and commerce – real peacocks, as it were. And who won? Whistler took a lesser fee than he really felt he deserved – but we’re still talking about him today and the room still stands.

xoxo Linda Would you like my Favorite Tips for a Well-Decorated Home? Click here!

4 thoughts on “The Peacock Room: Seeing is Believing

  1. wow – gorgeous! the peacock color on the wall (the blue) reminds me of the blue on the walls on Timm Gunn’s Guide to Style set.

    now, for the Designer Question: IS there a shade of that color peacock blue in paint available now? if so: what brand? where? it looks like a difficult color to get Just Right….

  2. CB – not sure about the paint – although there must be. I’ll keep my eye out for it. Maybe C2 paints?

    Jackie – I haven’t seen the new RA trims, but hope to soon – am hosting a Beacon Hill/RA trunk show next month and hopefully the rep will show those!

    And I agree, Ms. Place – such a shame Whistler is known mostly for his “Mother”. Such a limited view!

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