Charlotte Horlyck Lecture Summary

In her March 8 lecture, Charlotte Horlyck, Smithsonian Institution Senior Fellow of Art History at the Freer|Sackler, discussed “Charles Lang Freer and the Collecting of Korean Art in the Early 20th Century.” Through researching letters, collection catalogues, and purchase documents, she found that while Chosun-era pottery is most valuable today, collectors focused on Koryo celadon wares in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This interest developed quickly after Korea opened to the west in the 1880s, because missionaries and diplomats could obtain art as gifts or even from tombs and bring it home with them. Japanese collectors also sold Korean pottery, like New York’s Yamanaka and Co., and pieces circulated among the estates of prominent collectors. Korean culture was seen as traditional while Japan and China were changing and modernizing, but scholarship about Korean culture was scarce at the time. Charles Freer began collecting Korean pottery in the late 1880s because James McNeill Whistler, a favorite artist of his and designer of the Freer Gallery’s famous “Peacock Room,” was inspired by Asian art. Freer based his choices on aesthetics rather than history. He donated his collection to the U.S. government in 1906, and the Freer Gallery opened in 1926, becoming the first art museum on the Smithsonian campus.

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