The Story of Beautiful is a collaboration between the Smithsonian's Freer Gallery of Art, the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, and Wayne State University's library system. For readers interested in art history, this online exhibit highlights an ornate nineteenth-century room with a fascinating backstory.
The Story of Beautiful is an interactive website dedicated to a single room with a contentious history. Between 1876 and 1877, artist James McNeill Whistler took charge of decorating a London dining room for ship owner Frederick Richards Leyland. Whistler took the lead from ailing architect Thomas Jeckyll, who had designed ornate shelving units to display Leyland's collection of Chinese porcelain jugs. Unbeknownst to Leyland, Whistler drastically revised the room, adding floor-to-ceiling peacock patterns; Leyland was not pleased. So, Whistler added one final touch to the room: a mural of two squabbling peacocks entitled "Art and Money." Leyland hated the Peacock Room, but he kept the room intact and showed it off to visitors. In 1903, American art collector Charles Lang Freer purchased the Peacock Room and had it reassembled in his Detroit home. Leyland's porcelain collection was not included in the sale, so Freer collected his own ceramics to fill Jeckyll's shelves, including pieces from Syria, Iran, Japan, China, and Korea. On this website, viewers can take a virtual tour of both the London and Detroit renditions of the Peacock Room, examine over 400 individual ceramic items featured in the room, and view other archival material related to this spectacular room. Note that to view the virtual tours on the site, visitors need to use Google Chrome or have the most updated version of Adobe Flash.