Harmony in Blue and Gold: The story of the Peacock Room

Happy Thursday loves!! I do hope your week has gone well so far, full of joy and good times. I will be enjoying the October weekend, I do love this season & may be I'll go out to kick the leaves around and enjoy the colours of nature, even if it rains. One must walk in the rain at least once in life, it's quite refreshing. I leave you with one of my utmost favourite rooms ever...The Peacock Room! As you may have guessed I adore Peacocks and their amazing colours. And this room is a dream, I hope to one day travel to see it in real life and enjoy it's sensuous atmosphere to the fullest. Please don't feel you have to read it all word for word, just enjoy the pictures, I've linked all that I could for those like me, enjoy researching more and learning things :) Enjoy & have a wonderful and decadent day and weekend to come!!

All love, peace & cupcakes


La Princesse du pays de la porcelaine, 1863-64, by James McNeill Whistler (American, 1834-1903). Oil on canvas, 199.9 x 116.1 cm. Gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1903.91

The Peacock Room was at one time the dining room in the London home of Frederick R. Leyland. He was a wealthy shop owner from Liverpool, England. It was originally designed by a very gifted interior architect named Thomas Jeckyll. He wanted to better display Leyland's prized collection of Chinese porcelain at it's best, so constructed a lattice of intricately carved shelving and hung antique gilded leather on the walls. A painting by James Abott McNeill Whistler called "La Princesse du pays de la porcelaine - or The Princess from the Land of Porcelain", occupied a place of honour above the fireplace.
Mr. Jeckyll had nearly completed his commission when he consulted Whistler (who had been working on decorations for the entrance to the Leyland's house) in regards to the colour of the paint to use on the dining room shutters and doors. Having great concern that the red roses on the leather hangings would clash with the colours in the painting, Whistler volunteered to retouch the walls with the traces of yellow; Leyland permitted him to make these changes and to also adorn the wainscoting and cornice with a wave pattern. Assuming the decoration of the room would have been complete, Leyland went back to his business in Liverpool.


Central shutters on the east side of Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room, 1876-77, by James McNeill Whistler (American, 1834-1903). Oil paint and metal leaf on leather, canvas, and wood, 4.2 x 10 x 6 m. Gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1904.61

Detail of the central shutters on the east side of Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room, 1876-77, by James McNeill Whistler (American, 1834-1903). Oil paint and metal leaf on leather, canvas, and wood, 4.2 x 10 x 6 m. Gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1904.61

While the patron was away, Whistler decided to play ; ) He was inspired to go even bolder in his revisions. He brought in Dutch metal or imitation gold leaf and covered the ceiling in it. Over that, he painted a lush pattern of peacock feathers (can you see why this room is my favourite yet!?!) He then went on to gild Jeckyll's walnut shelving and make embellishments on the wooden shutters with four magnificent and stunning plumed peacocks. Whistler wrote to Leyland that the dining room had come alive with beauty, brilliant and gorgeous while at the same time keeping it's delicate and refined nature to the last degree. He urged Leyland not to return to London yet, as he wanted every detail to be perfect before being seen. 

Portrait of Whistler, 1897, by Paul Cesar Helleu (French, 1859-1927). Drypoint, 33.6 x 25.3 cm. Gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1897.103

Arrangement in Black: Portrait of F.R. Leyland by James McNeill Whistler, 1870-73. Oil on canvas, 192.8 x 91.9 cm. Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C. Gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1905.100

Yet, instead of this, Whistler decided to use the time to entertain visitors and amuse the press in the lavishly decorated room - all without the permission of the owner, so you know! His audacious behaviour combined with a dispute over payment brought about a bitter quarrel between the painter and his patron. Leyland would not pay Whistler the two thousand guineas that Whistler wanted, especially when he was using his home for other entertaining purposes. But, eventually he agreed - but to only half that amount and further insulted Whistler by writing his check in pounds. 


Southeast corner of Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room, 1876-77, by James McNeill Whistler (American, 1834-1903). Oil paint and metal leaf on leather, canvas, and wood, 4.2 x 10 x 6 m. Gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1904.61

Detail: South wall mural of Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room, 1876-77, by James McNeill Whistler (American, 1834-1903). Oil paint and metal leaf on leather, canvas, and wood, 4.2 x 10 x 6 m. Gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1904.61

Maybe in retaliation, Whistler took the liberty in coating Leyland's valuable leather with Prussian-blue paint and depicted a pair of peacocks fighting aggressively with each other on the wall opposite The Princess painting. He used two shades of gold for the design & highlighted the details in silver. At the feet of the angry birds are scattered coins (silver shillings) that Leyland refused to pay. The silver feathers on the peacock's throat allude to the ruffled shits that Leyland always wore. This poor and affronted peacock with a silver crest feather was to resemble the lock of white hair that curled above Whistler's forehead. To make sure that Leyland understood his point, Whistler called the mural of these fighting peacocks "Art and the Money or, The Story of the Room." He got his hands on a blue rug to complete the scheme and titled the room "Harmony in Blue and Gold." Once completing this room in 1877, he never saw it again!


Whistler's Peacock Room, Chicago Sunday Tribune, 4 September 1904


Even with all the controversy around the creation of this room, Leyland kept it as Whistler left it and continued on filling the shelves with porcelain until he died in 1892. Twelve years after, the Peacock Room was removed from the Leyland house and put on exhibition in a London art gallery. Charles Lang Freer (1852-1919) having recently acquired The Princess from the Land of Porcelain, who later founded the Freer Gallery of Art, purchased the Peacock Room in 1904. The room was again taken apart and reinstalled in an addition to Freer's house in Detroit, Michigan. It was used for the display of his own collection of ceramics. Freer recognised the importance of the Peacock room in understanding Whistler's style. And also he believed it to exemplify the spirit of universal beauty that upheld his philosophy of collecting & united his Asian and American art.


Detail: Southwest corner of Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room, 1876-77, by James McNeill Whistler (American, 1834-1903). Oil paint and metal leaf on leather, canvas, and wood, 4.2 x 10 x 6 m. Gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1904.61

Southwest corner of Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room, 1876-77, by James McNeill Whistler (American, 1834-1903). Oil paint and metal leaf on leather, canvas, and wood, 4.2 x 10 x 6 m. Gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1904.61

After Freer pasted away in 1919, the Peacock Room was once again transported. This time to Washington, D.C. and installed in the new Freer Gallery of Art. But, because of being moved so many times, the room's physical structure had become unstable. Between 1947 and 1950, two Boston restorers, John and Richard Finlayson carried out very extensive renovations, they seemed to concentrated most of their work on the painted panels and disregarded the surrounding framework of wainscoting, even though Whistler himself lavished on details. Sadly, this lost the subtle harmonies of the work. 
Fortunately, Whistler's intricate patterns of colour design were able to be successfully retrieved. A team removed the accumulated darkened varnish to leave the original greenish gold. The dark lustreless ceiling became vibrant again with feather patterns across a shimmering gold ground. Once this conservation was complete, the inspiration for the colour scheme became clear, the coppery golds, brilliant blues and greens of Whistler's decoration resembled that of the stunning feathers of the peacock! 


La Princesse du pays de la porcelaine, 1863-64, by James McNeill Whistler (American, 1834-1903). Oil on canvas, 199.9 x 116.1 cm. Gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1903.91

Going even further to restore the harmony of The Peacock Room, the Freer Gallery went on to collect examples of Chinese blue and white porcelain very similar to those which the room was designed. Frederick Leyland's collection consisted of Oing-dynasty pieces, primarily from the Kangxi period (1662-1722), in a wide ranges of shapes and sizes, as suggested by the variety of spaces formed by Jeckyll's elaborate walnut framework. The cobalt-blue peacock feathers, which lay almost invisible before the conservation work, appear in all their glory on the walls behind the shelves. As a result of this conservation, Whistler's Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room is once again what the artist intended, a whimsical land of porcelain ruled by the princess in the painting!






68 comments

  1. love the painting at the first pic! so beautiful! wow that's a really unique and antique dining room!

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  2. Hello:
    What a hugely informative an interesting account of a room which almost certainly deserves a place in the annals of artistic history for all time. And how very much we too should like to see it for ourselves being, as you clearly are, huge admirers of Whistler's work.

    It is most reassuring to know that sympathetic restoration has now been carried out to ensure the room's future.

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  3. What an amazing room! The story behind it is really interesting and I simply love a bit of "artist's revenge" ;-) Have a lovely day and enjoy the sunshine and leaves xo

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  4. That last image is absolutely stunning and the colours are just truly amazing.

    It's remarkable how they've still managed to capture the spirit of the Peacock Room just as it was years ago. I do love the gold gilded deets against the blue! It's beautiful.
    x.o.x.o

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  5. All the things I learn, and the beauty you bring to my world, my gorgeous Kizzy.
    Have a wonderful thursday.
    XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

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  6. Thanks so much for the lesson about this Doll, I'd never heard of the Peacock Room or the awesome story behind it so I've been seriously missing out, awesome photos as well Doll, I love vintage lessons like this.

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  7. What an incredible story!!! So many twists and turns to finally complete the gorgeous room, and then name it! I hope I can actually visit the Peacock Room, one day! Thank you for sharing the history! I love peacocks also. In fact, my most recent phone screen saver is a peacock in all its colorful glory! Thank you, again, Timbarika! I gained knowledge while being entertained! Love it! xo

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  8. Oh this is just incredible, I'm increasingly drawn to over the top interiors at the moment, I'd love to start all over again.

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  9. exquisite and opulent...love the turquoise!

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  10. Love this posts....so amazing & inspiring at the same time!!

    REBECCA
    www.redtagchiclosangeles.com

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  11. thanks :) and thank you for reading my blog so regularly ! its a very nice article with great pictures, started reading right now but i haven't finished jet :)

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  12. Stumbled across your blog and I love it! Such a refreshing read! :D
    I'm a newbie, Wish we could follow each other? :)
    Much Love,
    Madhumita.
    http://envoguedivam.blogspot.in/
    https://www.facebook.com/EnVogue.Diva.M

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  13. Lavish indeed! Wow! Peacocks are really in-vogue now and I am considering a little statuary for my home. Love all the detail in these photos and such beautiful color.

    xx
    leslie

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  14. Nice introduction. I've never heard of this place before actually, so got a little wiser here.
    And I do love peacocks, heh. :)

    Satu
    Indie by heart

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  15. What a daring and beautiful set of designs, especially for that time! It is so great to see that the room has been restored and traveled the world and internet for us to appreciate!

    xoxo,
    Chic 'n Cheap Living

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  16. Kizzy, I couldn't get enough of this story! What a real life tale of talent and drama. I kind of understand both sides that each man experienced. I wonder if this was the start of contractual agreements between contractors and client. HAHAHAHA I had to laugh when he drew peacocks fighting with shillings scattered everywhere. HAHAHAHHAA It's an exquisite room!!! I would love to see it. Keep writing good posts like this. This is why I love your blog! HAHAHAH Fascinating!!!
    http://www.averysweetblog.com/

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  17. The artwork is so stunning. I love how exquisite the gold is. You are always so well informed and knowledgeable. I love reading your posts.

    Tracy @ Sunny Days and Starry Nights

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  18. Hello Dear! I like your blog so much! This is my first visit here but definitely not the last :) Would you like to follow each other? :)


    XOXO,
    Monika

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  19. I didn't know the full story behind it!! 'd love to visit ths place too!!
    Don't Call Me Fashion Blogger
    Facebook
    Bloglovin'

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  20. I really enjoyed the story and pics of Peacock Room! Sorta sad Whistler wasn't really allowed to enjoy his creation, but really love it how he paid back (I'm sure that Leyland must have understood the "joke" with with the fighting peacocks ;))

    xxx Lara
    http://rockteraptor.blogspot.fi/

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  21. The paintings are great! really amazing, have a wonderful October :-)
    http://hind-toufga.blogspot.com/

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  22. Interesting history!

    P.S. Thanks for your comment on my blog! Pass by sometime soon again, I have a new post! :) xx
    Missingsparkles.com

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  23. Wonderful paintings and well written post!

    <3
    Sonshu
    www.thesonshu.com
    (New post is up)

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  24. Amazing post!! :)

    http://estilohedonico.blogspot.pt/

    xoxo

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  25. so elegant and decorative! I love the colour scheme of it all, really is like a peacock! thanks for sharing.

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  26. Darling, thank you so much for sharing this with us! :) U are so exquisit! xoxo

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  27. I hadn't heard of the Peacock Room before, it is utterly opulent, and those rich jewel colours are amazing, thanks for including the interesting story behind it as well. HAppy Friday!

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  28. Very interesting story, espeically the symbolism from the scattered shillings to the ruffles on his shirt details. The gold and blue/green colouring looks exquisite. I love the fitting peacock inspiration! Wishing you a happy weekend dear. xx

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  29. WOW, this is impressive and how well it has stood the test of time. And the chicago sunday tribune? Nice :) that's how I start my Sunday now in 2012.

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  30. That first painting is gorgeous! I really love it! I like the mix of the different shade of green/ blue with the blue and white ceramic pieces. They do the painting proud! :)

    Have a great weekend sweetie! :)

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  31. That's an innovative way to decorating a room.
    Love the gold & blue peacocks.
    I do have a partiality towards peacocks in anything, and I love this!
    FASHION PANACHE BLOG

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  32. That room is the most beautiful creation - but Whistler sounds totally bonkers! Have a great weekend K xo

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  33. Wonderful paintings!!! totally in love!!!

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  34. Love the first beautiful painting !! Super :) Kisses

    New post up....
    ❤ StylishByNature.com

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  35. the use of gold in those paint are really fantastic <3

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  36. What a beautiful story
    and such a marvelous looking room.

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  37. This is exquisite Kizzy :) Happy weekend Doll, hope you enjoy it and kick some leaves around,
    Axx

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  38. love the old things!
    love youre blog too so I followed u, mind to follow me too?
    hope to have your name on my blog! :)

    xoxo <3

    http://sunkissedqueen.blogspot.com

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  39. This is really interesting and I always find it incredible how much detail (and effort) went into each and every single one of the rooms in old manors.

    Hope you have a wonderful weekend!

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  40. What a stunning room and I enjoyed learning about it's history as well.

    Have a lovely weekend Kizzy!
    Rowena @ rolala loves

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  41. such a great and interesting post, you entertained me!

    It’s a GIRL Thing

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  42. I enjoyed this story so much Kizzy and was laughing out loud when I read how he kept painting while his patron was away. The entire tenor of the event reminded me of my good friend Ron, an artist who passed away last year--he had the same naughty sense of humor with the wealthy people he worked for and I could see him pulling a similar stunt. The work itself is gorgeous--I am dying to see it in person now. Hope you have a wonderful weekend!
    xo Mary Jo

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  43. I like the traces of yellow that Whistler added to the peacock room. Thanks for sharing this and happy Friday!

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  44. I read the whole thing so there...Much love Hun. Checkout my most recent post....you're in it. Wink ;)

    Lisa x

    Happy Weekend

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  45. I have a velvet bag - purple - with big peacock feathers on it - and I love it and don't use it often enough. Thanks for reminding me of it - I'm going to build an outfit round it

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  46. Great pics!!! love them!
    I invite you to come and visit my blog on http://laviecestchic.blogspot.com hope that you like it!!! You'll always welcome! xx Marika

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  47. Beautiful post. Thank you for following me I am now following back
    sewthecity.blogspot.com
    x

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  48. Very beautiful! This makes me want to live in UK even more, every British art and literature has its own historical story behind <33 I love peacocks as well, when I was a child I always assumed that peacocks had been phoenix lol

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  49. very interesting ^.^ amazing pictures :) ♥

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  50. i love peacock feathers and its beauty
    and these artwork is super amazing!

    xoxo
    style frontier

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  51. Hey nice blog here! Visit mine and let me know what you think, maybe we could follow each other!
    XOXO
    Ylenia

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  52. How incredible! I loved hearing the story of The Peacock Room. Thanks for sharing :) Hope you're having a fabulous weekend, Kizzy! xoxo

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  53. gorgeous photos!
    such an interesting post!
    love your blog! would you like to follow each other?
    <3
    nailvarnishvixen.blogspot.com

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  54. Amazing!! Love the post.

    xx

    www.sickbytrend.com

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  55. I'm Following you Now darling!
    Keep in touch :)
    XOXO

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  56. What an amazing history and marvellous place!!
    xoxo
    Patricia

    http://misstoptenimage.blogspot.com

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  57. WOW, what an interesting and fabulous story!! I love reading about things like that. The room is gorgeous, and I would love to visit one day. You have a wonderful blog, and I'm now following on Bloglovin.

    xo Jenny
    www.crazystylelove.com

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  58. Amazing room! Amazing art! I Like "love, peace and cupcakes":-)
    hugs from New York,
    xx
    Ask Erena
    http://askerena.blogspot.com/

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  59. Lovely blog.
    http://xtheperfectmess.blogspot.com.au

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  60. What a truly fascinating story. The room is so beautiful. More than beautiful. Exquisite. I can't even imagine what it looks like in person!

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  61. Hi dear :) I love your blog! Would you like to follow each other?

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  62. Hermoso es que te pasaras por mi blog, mil gracias. Esta bellisimo todo lo que compartes. Saludos desde http://jualferx.blogspot.com/ Te sigo.

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