Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Peacock Room with the Shutters Open

Where: Freer Gallery of Art

When: Third Thursday of each month

One day each month, the curators at the Freer open the shutters in the Peacock Room, and last Thursday, I went to have a look.  Sadly, the day was overcast, so I probably didn't get the best possible view, but it was nice to have a bit more light in the room.

The Freer usually decorates the room with a selection of blue and white china, but at present, they've switched out that collection for a sampling of Charles Lang Freer's pottery.  He collected from a wide variety of sources, so you get a little bit of everything.  If you like pottery, this is a must-see, regardless of whether the shutters are open or closed.  Apparently, the blue and white porcelain will return in the spring, so your opportunity to see the room as Freer lived in it is limited.

The fabulous peacock painting on the far wall is actually James McNeil Whistler's revenge against the room's original owner, who refused to pay him what he (Whistler) though he was owed for his work redecorating the room.  The peacock on the right, who looks very haughty and full of himself, is meant to represent Frederick Leyland, the London shipping magnate, who hired Whistler to redo Thomas Jeckyll's original design.  The peacock on the left is Whistler himself, bullied and cowed by Leyland.  It's a wonderful painting, regardless of the history, but knowing the story does add a bit to the picture.

Docents are available to answer questions while the shutters are open, which is how I found out about the painting's hidden (or not so hidden) meaning.  A knowledgeable guide really adds to my appreciation of a museum I find, and that feeling was reinforced on this visit.  I'd like to be able to take guided tours of the Smithsonian museums - having to work full-time really does cramp my style in this way!

Verdict: Take the time to see this fantastic room in a new light; the next date the shutters will be open is February 21, 2013.

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