The Art of Design: The Peacock Room

In 1876, a shipping magnate from Liverpool, England consulted James Abbott McNeill Whistler, American expat painter living in London, in redesigning his Far East-inspired dining room. At first, Frederick Leyland, the patron, asked Whistler for simple suggestions on paint colors for the space, as one of Whistler's portraits was to hang over the mantle.

When the patron was away on business, Whistler impulsively seized creative control and redesigned the entire room, without financial support or consent from his client.

Whistler adorned the room in gold leaf and peacock feather designs, to enhance the display of Leyland's precious blue and white Chinese porcelain collection. He dubbed the space The Peacock Room: Harmony in Blue in Gold, using musical terminology to suggest the way the viewer should behold the space with aesthetic awareness.

When Leyland returned to see his opulently decorated new dining room (and perhaps more importantly the tab for said dining room), the unassuming patron and the uncontrollable artist entered into a lawsuit. To get his artistic revenge on Leyland, Whistler painted two proud peacocks squabbling over a bag of coins at the far end of the room.

In 1904, American collector Charles Freer purchased the room and had it reassembled in his Detroit home. By 1923, Freer bequeathed his vast collection to the Smithsonian and today, Whistler's contentious yet magnificent room is on display in the Freer Gallery of Art.

When I first visited the Peacock Room in its present home in D.C., I immediately felt that harmony that Whistler instilled in his visionary space. All the hues of a peacock's feathers fan out within the room: deep indigos, vivid teals, saturated greens, brilliant violets. By adding the architectural framework of golden shelves across the walls, the cool palette is complemented elegantly.

In the past, I have used a singular art work as an inspiration for a room. But, today, let's consider Whistler's entire space and how it might be reinterpreted in your home with metallic touches against a blue palette. You need not place peacocks on your wall to achieve the Orientalist sophistication of Whistler's Harmony in Blue and Gold.

Images borrowed from Smithsonian, KellyWearstlerViaPeacockFeathers, SummerThorntonDesign & DecorPad.

1 comment:

  1. I LOVE the cool serenity of the first photo, very chic and modern. I like how the whimsical curves of the headboard contrast with the clean horizontal lines of the furniture and the vertical lines of the mirrors. The design is bold yet feminine.


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