For the first time in 25 years, visitors to the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art will be able to see the famous James McNeill Whistler “Peacock Room” in natural light—if you’re in the right place at the right time.
Subtle details, such as peacock motifs, the textures of the ceramics and the embossed patterns of the wall hangings, can be seen clearly as the museum—briefly—unlatches the shutters on the room’s windows.
The shutters will be open only from 12-5:30 p.m. on the third Thursday of every month. A docent will be on hand from 12-2 p.m. for informal conversations, and there will be an in-depth tour of the room at 2 p.m.
The room was originally designed by architect Thomas Jeckyll for London shipping magnate Frederick Leyland, who wanted a place to show off his Chinese porcelain. American expatriate artist Whistler redecorated the room in 1876 and 1877 as “A Harmony in Blue and Gold,” inspired by the ceramics. The room was bought by Charles Lang Freer and moved to Freer’s Detroit mansion in 1904. Freer filled the room with his preferred Asian and Middle Eastern pottery. “The Peacock Room” was moved again when the Freer Gallery opened at the Smithsonian in 1923.
The museum has installed film on the windows to filter ultraviolet and visible light, minimizing the fading effect of having the shutters open. The gallery is on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.