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The Story of the Beautiful is a research collaboration between the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art|Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and Wayne State University’s Library System, supported in part with grants from the Smithsonian Web 2.0 Fund and the Mr. and Mrs. Raymond J. Horowitz Foundation for the Arts.

The project began with the recognition that the story of the Peacock Room---one of many “stories of the beautiful” represented in the Freer’s collections of the arts of Asia and the American Aesthetic movement---is especially well-suited to the narrative possibilities of the Web. The site thus functions both as a digital archive and as an immersive virtual environment in which users can explore the room, learn about the objects it has contained, and see how the places and faces associated with the room contributed to its history. Anchored by the two virtual tours, the site offers users a deeply contextualized way to navigate the collections: some 400 digital objects, among them the room itself, the objects it has contained, as well as archival materials such as photographs, bills of sale, and correspondence.

Through this site, the Peacock Room---an icon of the Aesthetic movement---is now universally accessible in a way that is as dynamic and multifaceted as the room itself. The site’s deeper significance lies in demonstrating two aspects of "the story of the beautiful": demonstrating that Whistler’s notion of art history as a transhistorical, transcultural “story of the beautiful” influenced the collecting philosophy of his most important patron, Charles Lang Freer; and showing that stories of the beautiful are far from ever being complete. They are continually retold, shaped by individual biography; travel; the circulation of artistic objects; changes in critical reception; social, commercial, and aesthetic networks; and other modes of cosmopolitanism.

We hope that sharing these multiple layers of content with our virtual visitors will enrich their appreciation of the room and inspire them to become active partners in adding to our understanding through commenting, tagging, and sharing. We also hope that this virtual experience will prompt you to visit---or revisit---the real Peacock Room in the Freer Gallery of Art.

The Detroit version of the room was installed in the Freer Gallery of Art in April 2011 for the exhibition The Peacock Room Comes to America.

Project team:

Lee Glazer, curator of American art, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Maya Foo, curatorial assistant, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Shawn McCann, Immersive Learning Librarian, Wayne State University Libraries
Joshua Neds-Fox, Coordinator for Digital Publishing, Wayne State University Libraries
Paul Gallagher, Associate Director, Discovery Services, Wayne State University Libraries
Dina Mein, Former Director, New Media and Information Technology, Wayne State University Libraries
Matt Decker, Former Associate Director, Digital Library Initiatives, Wayne State University Libraries
Jonathan McGlone, Former Scholarly Publishing Librarian, Wayne State University Libraries
Graham Hukill, Digital Publishing Librarian, Wayne State University Libraries


Many individuals and departments at the Freer|Sackler and Wayne State contributed their time, energy, and expertise to this project. Among museum staff, we would especially like to thank John Tsantes, Robert Harrell, and Neill Greentree for the stunning high resolution photography; David Hogge in the Freer|Sackler Archives for his help in locating and scanning numerous documents; Jeff Smith for his work on the data base; Liz Cheng for technical advice; Nancy Eickel for her sharp editorial eye; and Tim Kirk, Christina Popenfus, John Piper, Teak Lynner, Ellen Chase, and Jennifer Bosworth for preparing the Freer ceramics for display and installing them so beautifully in the Peacock Room. We are also indebted to Louise Cort, curator of Asian ceramics, who helped us identify the pots in the 1908 iteration of the room; Michelle Dacus Carr, who wrote many of the stories about the ceramics; and Tyler Boenecke for assisting with the early stages of the project. At Wayne State, we’re grateful for the support of the Dean of the Libraries Dr. Sandra Yee, and to Meghan Finch, Rebecca Caterina and Joseph Gajda, who have been especially helpful managing many technical and data-intensive aspects of creating the digital archive and the two interactive panoramas.