Bowing to Art

Jar || Syria, probably 16th-17th century,
paired with
Venus Rising from the Sea || James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) || ca. 1866-870

Though he was famously suspicious of photographic reproductions of works of art, Freer felt an immediate affinity with Alvin Langdon Coburn, who came recommended as ”a young man of taste” who shared his host’s enthusiasm for the art of Whistler. Like Freer, Coburn believed that Whistler was preeminent among contemporary painters. Many of Coburn’s pictorialist photographs were indebted to both Japanese prints and Whistler’s tonal landscapes and urban views.

At Freer’s house, Coburn worked from six in the morning until ten at night to photograph the collection. During those long hours, Freer became comfortable enough with Coburn to pose for a series of portraits. Never intended for public display, these images document Freer’s intimate relation ship with his collection. Though it took ”heaps of hard work” to capture the ”elusive” qualities of the art, Freer enjoyed the photography project. He admitted to a friend, ”You will understand what fun we are having”. [source: Freer Gallery of Art]

Photographs of Freer with works from the collection, 1909, by Alvin Langdon Coburn

Freer Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

March 21st, 2019


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