Portrait of Charles Lang Freer.
Charles Lang Freer was born in Kingston, New York, in 1856. In partnership with Colonel Frank J. Hecker he founded the Peninsular Car Works in Detroit, which produced railway rolling stock. After the American Car and Foundry Company he was able to retire from business in 1900, and devote himself exclusively to art collecting. He began to collect Whistler’s etchings in 1887, and after meeting Whistler in 1880, set out, with single-minded determination and the appropriate financial resources, to form the largest single collection of his work anywhere. He was known principally as a pioneering collector of the art of the Far East and Asia; his friendship with Whistler was instrumental in influencing the formation of his taste. On his death in 1919 he bequeathed to the American nation his Oriental and Whistler collections – comprising some 70 oil paintings, and works in other media, including The Peacock Room – together with paintings by Whistler’s American contemporaries. They are now displayed in the Freer Gallery of Art, in the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, which opened to the public in 1923