Happy Birthday, Smithsonian!

Black and white aerial view of the Freer Gallery, surrounded with remaining construction rubble.
Aerial view of the Freer Gallery, ca. 1923

Today marks a full 170 years for the Smithsonian. When the Freer Gallery opened to the public in 1923, it became the first art museum on the Smithsonian campus. The Freer story, however, began in 1906, when Charles Lang Freer gave his collection of Asian and American art to the nation, a gift he had proposed to President Theodore Roosevelt a year before. By exploring the differences in arts from around the world, the Freer Gallery of Art would unite, in Freer’s own words, “modern work with masterpieces of certain periods of high civilization harmonious in spiritual suggestion.”

In this photo, dated to around the time of the Freer’s opening, you can spot the Department of Agriculture at the corner of Independence Avenue and 12th Street and the Potomac River in the distance. While the Freer building is closed for renovation at the moment (a 94-year-old museum was in need of a few upgrades!), the Sackler is upholding our role as the Smithsonian’s museum of Asian art.

Joelle Seligson

Joelle Seligson is digital editor at the Freer|Sackler.

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