Kit Brooks, Japan Foundation Assistant Curator of Japanese Art, National Museum of Asian Art, explores the legacy of legendary collector Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919). Freer travelled the world collecting objects when he began the second stage of his life; taking early retirement after a lucrative career as a railway industrialist. He bought and learned from now legendary dealers and collectors like Yamanaka and Company, C. T. Loo, and Ernest Fenollosa—to name but a few. Freer was especially fond of the traditional arts of Japan, China, and the Ancient Near East, which he combined with his tastes in contemporary American art, according to an aesthetic ideal that he believed united beautiful objects across time and region.
He assembled his collection to form a gift to the nation in the form of The Freer Gallery of Art, Washington DC, the first art museum on the National Mall. Freer was scrupulous about every detail, overseeing all facets of the museum’s construction according to what he believed to be the ideal conditions for viewing art, though he died before the museum was completed.
In accordance with Freer’s will, work from the Freer Gallery’s collection cannot be loaned to other museums, nor can objects from outside the institution be shown within its walls. New acquisitions can only be added to Freer’s original gift in carefully considered, restrictive conditions. Freer’s presence is felt in other ways—for example in the choices of fabrics he selected for the remounting of his Chinese and Japanese paintings. A recently gifted scrapbook assembled by the two Japanese mounters he employed, the Miura Brothers, offers an insight into his tastes and collecting practices that is still felt in how we view these mounted paintings today." (Promo Copy)