The story behind the work

The story behind the work: The Peacock Room

James McNeill Whistler designed the Peacock Room for Frederick R. Leyland.
James McNeill Whistler designed the Peacock Room for Frederick R. Leyland. (Courtesy Of The Freer Gallery Of Art, Smithsonian Institution)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 3, 2010

No visit to "Chinamania" would be complete without a stop in the Peacock Room, which is chockablock with even more of the blue-and-white porcelain that's at the heart of the little show.

Though formally known as "Harmony in Blue and Gold," the wonderfully garish dining room has a history that's anything but harmonious. Upset by what he saw as his decorator's excesses, Frederick R. Leyland, the Peacock Room's owner, refused to pay James McNeill Whistler his full fee, leading to a falling-out.

In the end, Whistler had a kind of artistic revenge. At one end of the room he painted two peacocks -- representing him and Leyland -- fighting over a coin purse.

-- Michael O'Sullivan


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