Victorian Art & Design
Whistler 3, the Peacock Room
The Freer Gallery in Washington has a number of portraits by Whistler. It also has the Dining Room from Frederick Leyland's London house. This is called the Peacock Room because of the gold peacocks which Whistler painted on the walls. Leyland had bought some of Whistler's etchings and his painting, La Princesse du Pays de la Porcelaine (The Princess from the Land of Porcelain). Leyland placed this painting on the end wall of his Dining Room. The walls had just been hung with antique Spanish leather. Whistler told Leyland that the red flowers on the leather clashed with his painting. Leyland agreed that Whistler could make some alterations, but Whistler painted over all the leather and the window shutters with blue paint. He then decorated them with gold peacocks.
When Leyland returned to his London house he was horrified to find that
Whistler had been showing people round this Peacock Room. Whistler sent him a
bill for 2,000 guineas. Rossetti agreed with Leyland that this was too much and
he only gave Whistler £1,000. Whistler got his revenge by painting two peacocks
on the end wall, one clutching a bag of gold coins. Needless to say he did not
receive any further work from Leyland. In 1892 Aubrey Beardsley visited the Peacock
Room with his sister Mabel.
Whistler also showed his interest in interior decoration and his love of Japanese art in the decoration of his new house in Chelsea, the White House, built for him by E. W. Godwin. Sadly he only lived there briefly as he was bankrupted when he sued Ruskin for libel.