Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

The Smithsonian Institution’s national museums of Asian Art

The Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery together form the Smithsonian’s national museums of Asian art. Their eponymous patrons shared a love of art from both the Near and the Far East—and the wealth to build world-class collections.

The Freer Gallery of Art is connected by an underground passage to the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery which also has a street level entrance—near the Smithsonian Castle—but whose main gallery spaces are underground.

The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, which has been described as a Zen-like building, and the Freer Gallery of Art, with its amazing Peacock Room, house both ancient treasures and contemporary works from Asia (American art, too—more about that in just a bit). Almost 1,000 pieces came from Sackler’s own collection, while Charles Lang Freer donated 7,500 pieces. Today, the two buildings house over 25,000 items.

The display cases are filled with amazing treasures: items from China that date back to the Neolithic Age; Biblical manuscripts from Egypt—written Greek and Coptic on parchment and papyrus, they date from the 3rd Century to the 6th Century; Japanese handscroll paintings spanning the 13th Century to the 18th Century; glazed ceramics from Cambodia’s Khmer empire.

On the modern side, Xu Bing’s contemporary sculpture, Monkeys Grasping for the Moon, hangs suspended through all four levels of the Sackler Gallery.

Works by Childe Hassam, Winslow Homer, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and John Singer Sargent are among the Freer Gallery’s American collection. Freer’s interest in Asian art was prompted by his pursuit and acquisition of American art for his private collection. Freer had a strong friendship with James McNeill Whistler (Freer’s Gallery holds the world’s largest collection of this artist’s work). Whistler was deeply influenced by both Chinese and Japanese art.

Freer purchased Whistler’s Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room, the London dining room that the artist created for Frederick R. Leyland, in 1904.

Moved and reassembled in Freer’s Detroit home, the Peacock Room was moved again and permanently installed in the Smithsonian’s gallery after Freer’s death.

Visitor information, current exhibitions, events, educational resources and details on the collections at the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler Galleries is available on their website.

by Katie Calvert