The Smithsonians Freer Gallery of Art
and Wayne State University in Detroit have launched a new online resource, The Story of the Beautiful: Freer, Whistler & Their Points of Contact, a comprehensive guide to James McNeill Whistlers Peacock Room and its dynamic history. The Peacock Room, an elaborately painted former dining room and one of the most famous masterpieces in the Freers collection, celebrates its 90th anniversary of being on public view in 2013. The Story of the Beautiful at peacockroom.wayne.edu
, provides visitors with a deeply contextualized way to understand the room, its contents and its narratives, using more than 400 digital objects and a wealth of archival materials.
Users can explore two compelling 360-degree virtual versions of the room: one as it looked in Victorian London, filled with Chinese blue-and-white porcelain of the Kangxi era,the other as it appeared in 1908 after museum founder Charles Lang Freer reassembled it in Detroit and filled its shelves with subtly glazed ceramics from all over Asia. By clicking on each object in the room, visitors can zoom in on high-resolution images. Interactive maps and timelines, supplemented by letters, diary entries and vintage photographs from the Charles Lang Freer Papers, provide insight into Freers life story and his approach to collecting.
Project coordinators from the Freers American Art department and the Wayne State Librarys New Media and Information Technology Department intend to offer the site as a major resource for scholars, teachers and students, as well as a deeper experience for museum-goers. The artwork and period documents were part of Freers original bequest to the Freer Gallery, while Wayne State University, which now owns Freers Detroit mansion, provided the technical expertise to build the website.
This sitemakes an architectural and decorative icon of the Aesthetic movement universally accessible in a way that we couldnt previously, said Lee Glazer, project lead and curator of American art at the Freer and Sackler galleries. The inclusion of so many layers of visual and archival material is not only exciting, but also is invaluable to further research.
Glazer, museum staff and volunteers are demonstrating the new sites interactive features to Peacock Room visitors at noon every third Thursday of the month, when the rooms shutters are opened for the afternoon. Currently, the room is installed as it was in Detroit, part of the exhibition The Peacock Room Comes to America.
The Story of the Beautiful site takes its name from Whistlers belief that the story of the beautiful is already completehewn in the marbles of the Parthenonand broidered, with the birds, upon the fan of Hokusai, a quote typical of the Aesthetic sentiment that art and beauty transcend time, place and historical circumstances and resonate across cultures for all those who have the power to see beauty, as Freer put it.
Despite Whistlers claim that the story of the beautiful is unchanging, the Peacock Rooms dynamic history tells us otherwise, said Glazer. Even though it was created 130 years ago, it has been adapted by each owner to their own use, similar to the ways that we have adapted technology to transform our understanding of it. Digital storytelling is the Peacock Rooms next chapter.