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Sylvan Sounds: Freer, Dewing, and Japan

Charles Lang Freer, the founder of this museum, believed fundamental aesthetic connections exist between the art of different cultures and historical epochs. His collection of Asian antiquities and American art of the Aesthetic movement reflects a cosmopolitan ideal based on cross-cultural interchange and formal affinities in color, texture, and mood. When Freer embarked on his first trip to Asia in 1894, he already owned a significant collection of Japanese ceramics and woodblock prints, many of which complemented the landscape paintings by Dwight Tryon and Thomas Dewing that decorated his home in Detroit.

Following his return from Japan the next year, Freer began to expand his collection of Japanese art to include painted screens and hanging scrolls that relate to his preference for the work of James McNeill Whistler, Tryon, and Dewing.

Freer’s connection to Dewing and Japan was closest between 1895 and 1900. After the turn of the twentieth century, Freer increasingly turned to the scholar-collector Ernest Fenollosa for advice on Japanese art. As a result, Freer’s taste in Japanese painting took a new direction, one that was less obviously related to his interest in Whistler and American tonalism.

“For those who have the power to see beauty, all works of art go together, whatever their period.”

—Charles Lang Freer