Originally Published 09/16/99
Need a break from school work? Head to the Freer Gallery of Art. It’s the perfect place to relax and take in some fabulous exhibits.
The museum is small but packed with a variety of artwork, which can provide a good dose of culture in a couple of hours, depending how long you want to stay. The best thing about it is that it is do-able. There is a ton to see, but it does not overwhelm you. Overall, it’s a great place to escape.
Founded by its namesake, Charles Lang Freer, the Freer Gallery opened in 1923 as the Smithsonian’s first fine arts museum. Freer, a Detroit businessman and art collector, amassed paintings by his contemporary and fellow American, James McNeill Whistler. Whistler’s artwork decorates the halls in most of the gallery. An entire section of the museum is dedicated to Whistler and the aesthetic “Art for Art’s sake” movement.
The Freer Gallery is home to a significant collection of 19th and early 20th century American paintings. The museum is hosting for an indefinite run the exhibition “Winged Figures” by Abbott Handerson Thayer. The magnificent, larger-than-life works are portraits of his daughter as an angel.
Right next door to “Winged Figures” is the famous “Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room.” This is Whistler’s only existing interior design scheme. The fabulous room is covered from floor to ceiling with blue, green and gold. It is a nice departure from ordinary art viewing because you step into the masterpiece rather than just look at it. You could spend hours observing the intricate detail in the room, but a few minutes is enough to take your breath away.
The rest of the museum pays tribute to Freer’s second passion – Asian art from Neolithic times to the early 20th century. Since his death, Freer’s collection of Asian art has more than doubled in size. Some of the great exhibits, continuing indefinitely at the Freer Gallery, include the following: “Arts of the Islamic World,” “Buddhist Art,” “Japanese Screens,” “Korean Ceramics,” “Seto and Mino Ceramics” and “Shades of Green and Blue: Chinese Celadon Ceramics.” The ceramic collections are a little much. There are only so many bowls you can look at in a day. Viewing one or two of these rooms is plenty. However, the Japanese screen exhibition, which fills just a couple of corridors, is wonderful with its gorgeous elaborate screens.
Finally, “Selections from the Japanese Collection” and “The Tea Ceremony in Japan” are worth seeing. Both exhibits continue through Nov. 28. Also, in conjunction with these Japanese exhibits, there are some special programs taking place at the Freer Gallery. In the Freer’s Meyer Auditorium, located downstairs, there is a film festival entitled “Masters of Anime, A Century of Japanese Animation.”
The Freer Gallery offers so much, especially to students who don’t have the time to conquer an enormous museum. Whether you’re interested in Asian art or American painters such as Whistler and Thayer, the museum is peaceful and inspiring, not to mention home to internationally acclaimed art collections.
A great vacation from campus life, during the day you will find it virtually empty. The museum’s vast hallways and velvet-cushioned benches are great places to catch up on some reading. Take advantage of the Freer Gallery while you can – it is an elegant and enlightening haven just a few Metro stops away.
The Freer Gallery of Art is located at Jefferson Drive and 12th Street. It is open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily.