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Courtyard at Freer Gallery of Art, 1923-ongoing

view Courtyard at Freer Gallery of Art, 1923-ongoing digital asset number 1
Freer, Charles Lang 1856-1919
Landscape architect:
Platt, Charles A (Charles Adams) 1861-1933
Museum director:
Lodge, John Ellerton 1876-1942
Landscape designer:
Watson, Phillip
Landscape architecture firm:
Sasaki Associates
Physical description:
504 35mm slides (photographs), 6 photographic prints, negatives, and digital images
Digital images
Slides (photographs)
Photographic prints
United States of America, District of Columbia, Washington
District of Columbia
The Smithsonian Institution's first art museum, the Freer Gallery of Art, opened to the public on May 9, 1923. The building and its courtyard have an Italian Renaissance-style architecture focused on symmetry and simplicity. In the courtyard, loggias (covered open-air corridors) lie between the surrounding walls and an inner-perimeter of arches, which in turn have an inner-border of shade trees and lower plantings. Brick pavers and white marble paths lead to the courtyard's center - a granite fountain surrounded by a ring of Japanese boxwood.
In 1906, industrialist Charles L. Freer (1854-1919) donated to the Smithsonian Institution his collection of Asian and American art, including works by the American expatriate artist James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903). Freer's friend, the acclaimed architect and illustrator Charles A. Platt (1861-1933), designed the museum and courtyard to house Freer's collection. Builders broke ground in September 1916, but construction was then delayed due to World War I. Freer died in September 1919, and work on the gallery was finally completed later that year.
The courtyard's first walls were largely glass doors and windows, to allow air and light to enter. In 1928, the Freer Gallery's first curator, John E. Lodge, directed for some of the courtyard's brick and marble paving to be replaced with lawn, to diminish heat and glare in the galleries. Advances in indoor-climate technology and concern for artwork preservation later led to replacing many of the glass doors with white marble walls.
In 1988, Sasaki Associates, Inc. began an extensive renovation of the gallery, which included dismantling the courtyard and excavating two levels beneath it. This provided for more storage space and connected the Freer with the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, together forming a national museum of Asian art. When the courtyard was reinstalled, it was again paved with brick and white marble, with no lawn. Landscape designer Phillip Watson was in charge of the plantings. The gallery and courtyard reopened in 1993.
Peacocks were temporarily installed in the courtyard in the 1920s, and again when the gallery reopened in 1993. The birds were a living reference to the gallery's most famous work, Whistler's masterpiece of interior mural art, the Peacock Room (1876-77).
Plantings include Japanese maple (Acer palmatum 'Burgundy Lace'), Persian ironwoods (Parrotia persica), Japanese boxwoods (Buxus microphylla var. japonica 'Green Beauty'), cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus), and Hinoki cypress (Chamecyparis obtusa).
Persons associated with the garden include: Charles L. Freer (donor, 1906). Charles A. Platt (landscape architect, 1918). John E. Lodge (museum director, 1920-1942). Sasaki Associates, Inc. (landscape architecture firm, 1988-1993). Philip Watson (landscape designer, circa 1992).
Garden has been featured in Carole Ottesen, A Guide to Smithsonian Gardens (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Books, 2011), pp. 48-55
Local number:
Data Source:
Archives of American Gardens

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