Architectural History of the Freer Gallery of Art, 1917

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  • Construction began on the Freer Gallery of Art in 1917. Built to house the extensive private Asian art collection of millionaire Charles Lang Freer, the museum was the first at the Smithsonian dedicated exclusively to fine arts collections.
  • Freer donated his entire collection to the Smithsonian, along with funds to build the museum, and additional money to fund study and research. He chose his colleague Charles A. Platt, an artist and landscape architect, to design the building.
  • Almost immediately after construction began, it was halted due to the United States' entry in to World War I. The museum was eventually completed and opened in 1923, but unfortunately Charles Freer did not live to see it.
  • The museum was designed in classic Renaissance style, and was heavily influenced by the sub-style Mannerism. It features a perfectly symmetrical and geometrical square frame. The facade has large pillars and semi-circular doorways, and the center of the building opens to a large courtyard. The exterior of the building displays recessed niches and decorative friezes, and an ornamental balustraded parapet can be seen on all four sides of the roof. The building material is a mix of Tennessee marble in the interior courtyard, and Stony Creek granite on the exterior.


  • Freer, Charles Lang 1854-1919
  • Platt, Charles A (Charles Adams) 1861-1933
  • Freer Gallery of Art
  • Freer Gallery of Art Building North Entrance
  • Freer Gallery of Art Building North Façade
  • Freer Gallery of Art Building South Façade
  • Freer Gallery of Art Building South Entrance


Chronology of Smithsonian History


Ewing, H., & Ballard, A. (2009). A guide to Smithsonian architecture. Washington: Smithsonian Books.

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, D.C. 20024-2520,




  • Metamorphic rocks
  • WW I
  • Architecture--Washington (D.C.)
  • Art
  • Details
  • World War, 1914-1918
  • Architecture
  • Art museums
  • Museum architecture
  • Mannerism (Architecture)
  • Granite
  • Architecture--Details
  • Marble
  • Architecture, Roman
  • Art, Asian
  • Art, Chinese
  • Art, Japanese
  • Architecture, Renaissance


Washington (D.C.)

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