Tracing Asian Art History in the West: Charles Lang Freer's Collections, Archival Papers and Library

Material Description

Charles Lang Freer (1854 - 1919), donated his collection of Asian and American art of the Aesthetic Movement to the nation in 1906 to form the Freer Gallery of Art of the Smithsonian. Freer is unique among collectors in that he kept detailed records of all his transactions, and these records were transferred to the Smithsonian along with his collection. The museum's Archives include the purchase records to all objects in the original Freer collection, plus correspondence with more than 500 individuals and institutions related to his acquisitions, exhibitions and research activities. Fragile letterpress books retain carbon copies of Freer's outgoing correspondence, ensuring historical accuracy. Freer also bequeathed his library, including nearly every book on Asian art published in English in his lifetime, as well as a comprehensive selection on Whistler and the other American artists represented in his collection. Additionally, the library contains some one hundred auction catalogs and additional art-related periodicals. Finally, in his library were 300 rare Japanese woodblock print books (more than 1,000 volumes) and five rare Chinese books, on jades, bronzes and paintings totaling 172 volumes. The Freer art collection has internationally recognized collections of all three materials, many purchased by Charles L. Freer. Today, scholars are researching the history of Western collections of Asian art and together the Freer's library and archival holdings provide a wealth of information on the provenance of the art as well as the knowledge and aesthetic judgments that determined the makeup of our most important museum collections of Asian art. By digitizing, cataloging and linking records to art objects, Tracing Asian Art will allow scholars to deepen our understanding not just of Freer, but of art history and America's evolving relationship with Asia.

Year Added:



Smithsonian Institution


Mr. David Hogge
Freer and Sackler, Smithsonian Institution

Date Range

1727 - 1920

Geographic Scope

Freer's collections and the archival papers and books have global breadth stretching from the US and Europe to the Near East and East Asia.


  • 2057 Books
  • 21 Mixed Archival Collections
  • 21 Mixed Archival Collections
  • 21 Mixed Archival Collections
  • 21 Mixed Archival Collections