by Helen Tomlinson
When the railroad car manufacturer Charles Freer retired from business at age forty-five, he set out to create a world-class art collection that combined ancient Asian art and American paintings of his own Gilded Age. The extraordinary artworks he amassed formed the core of what became one of America’s first national art museums—the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
This engrossing biography of Freer traces his journey from his humble childhood in rural New York to his industrial career in the rapidly growing Detroit of the 1880s. Drawing on Freer’s diaries and letters, it describes his adventures around the world in search of art. He owned the largest collection of artworks by his feisty friend, James McNeill Whistler, whose love of Asian art inspired Freer to explore
A self-made man who never progressed beyond the eighth grade, Charles Freer had a keen eye for quality and a passion for learning. Blazing a trail where few others ventured, he became a renowned connoisseur of ancient Asian art.
Fiercely independent, intensely curious, and always searching for deeper meanings in the art he loved, Freer left a national legacy. The Freer Gallery of Art is as groundbreaking today as the man who created it one hundred years ago. West Meets East tells the story of Charles Freer’s incredible life.