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The Peacock Room
go back one page The Peacock Room was once the dining room in the London home of Frederick R. Leyland In his patron's absence, Whistler was inspired to make bolder revisions. Yet Whistler entertained visitors and amused the press in the lavishly decorated room, never thinking to ask permission of the owner of the house. Perhaps in retaliation, Whistler took the liberty of coating Leyland's valuable leather with Prussian-blue paint and depicting a pair of peacocks aggressively confronting each other on the wall opposite The Princess. Despite the controversy surrounding its creation, Leyland kept his dining room as Whistler had left it and continued filling the shelves with porcelain until his death in 1892. After Freer's death in 1919, the Peacock Room was transported to Washington, D.C. and installed in the new Freer Gallery of Art. As a further step toward restoring harmony to the Peacock Room, the Freer Gallery has collected examples of Chinese blue-and-white porcelain similar to those for which the room was designed. Go to the next page

After Freer's death in 1919, the Peacock Room was transported to Washington, D.C. and installed in the new Freer Gallery of Art. By then, having been dismantled, moved, and reassembled three times, the room's physical structure had become highly unstable. Between 1947 and 1950 two Boston restorers, John and Richard Finlayson, carried out an extensive renovation: they remounted the wall hangings with wax on a new plywood framework, repaired the damaged ceiling, restored the cracked and buckled leather, and retouched or repainted many surfaces of the room. The Finlaysons seemed to have concentrated their efforts on the painted panels and disregarded the surrounding framework of wainscoting, even though Whistler himself had lavished attention on every inch of the decoration. Largely as a result of their selective restoration, the artist's subtle harmonies fell sadly out of tune.

Fortunately, Whistler's intricate patterns of color design were successfully retrieved during a recent conservation project. Using cleaning systems designed specifically for the task, a team of conservators gradually removed an accumulation of darkened varnish, dirt, and overpaint, leaving the original surfaces of the room untouched. The wooden wainscoting was revealed to be not murkey brown but greenish gold. And the dark, lusterless ceiling became vibrant with feather patterns spun across a shimmering golden ground. Once the conservation was complete, the dominant inspiration for the color scheme became clearly apparent: the coppery golds and brilliant blues and greens of Whistler's decoration resemble the iridescent markings of peacock feathers.

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