Surface Beauty: American Art and Freer’s Aesthetic Vision

When Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), the Detroit industrialist and founder of the Freer Gallery of Art, began to collect contemporary American paintings in the early 1890s, he concentrated on a small group of artists—most notably Thomas Dewing (1851-1938) and Dwight Tryon (1849-1925)—whose interest in surface beauty resonated with the work of James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), the expatriate American whose work had already attracted Freer’s interest. By the turn of the century, Freer’s focus would shift to Asia, but his interest in tonal, textured surfaces remained constant, allowing him to establish “points of contact” between his Asian and American collections. This one-room exhibition brings together a group of decorative paintings by Dewing and Tryon, together with a selection of ceramics from the Detroit Pewabic Pottery, to highlight the importance of “surface beauty” to Freer’s aesthetic philosophy.