Smithsonian Digitizes & Lets You Download 40,000 Works of Asian and American Art

Freer 1

Art lovers who vis­it my home­town of Wash­ing­ton, DC have an almost embar­rass­ing wealth of oppor­tu­ni­ties to view art col­lec­tions clas­si­cal, Baroque, Renais­sance, mod­ern, post­mod­ern, and oth­er­wise through the Smith­son­ian’s net­work of muse­ums. From the East and West Wings of the Nation­al Gallery, to the Hir­sh­horn, with its won­drous sculp­ture gar­den, to the Amer­i­can Art Muse­um and Ren­wick Gallery—I’ll admit, it can be a lit­tle over­whelm­ing, and far too much to take in dur­ing a week­end jaunt, espe­cial­ly if you’ve got rest­less fam­i­ly in tow. (One can’t, after all, miss the Nat­ur­al His­to­ry or Air and Space Muse­ums… or, you know… those mon­u­ments.)

Freer 2

In all the bus­tle of a DC vaca­tion, how­ev­er, one col­lec­tion tends to get over­looked, and it is one of my per­son­al favorites—the Freer and Sack­ler Gal­leries, which house the Smithsonian’s unique col­lec­tion of Asian art, includ­ing the James McNeill Whistler-dec­o­rat­ed Pea­cock Room. (See his “Har­mo­ny in Blue and Gold” above.)

Stand­ing in this re-cre­ation of muse­um founder Charles Freer’s per­son­al 19th cen­tu­ry gallery—which he had relo­cat­ed from Lon­don to his Detroit man­sion in 1904—is an aes­thet­ic expe­ri­ence like no oth­er. And like most such expe­ri­ences, there real­ly is no vir­tu­al equiv­a­lent. Nonethe­less, should you have to hus­tle past the Freer and Sack­ler col­lec­tions on your DC vaca­tion, or should you be unable to vis­it the nation’s cap­i­tal at all, you can still get a taste of the beau­ti­ful works of art these build­ings con­tain.

Freer 3

Like many major muse­ums all over the world—including the Nation­al Gallery, the Rijksmu­se­um, The British Library, and over 200 oth­ers—the Freer/Sackler has made its col­lec­tion, all of it, avail­able to view online. You can also down­load much of it.

See del­i­cate 16th cen­tu­ry Iran­ian water­col­ors like “Woman with a spray of flow­ers” (top), pow­er­ful Edo peri­od Japan­ese ink on paper draw­ings like “Thun­der god” (above), and aston­ish­ing­ly intri­cate 15th cen­tu­ry Tibetan designs like the “Four Man­dala Vajravali Thang­ka” (below). And so, so much more.

As Freer/Sackler direc­tor Julian Raby describes the ini­tia­tive, “We strive to pro­mote the love and study of Asian art, and the best way we can do so is to free our unmatched resources for inspi­ra­tion, appre­ci­a­tion, aca­d­e­m­ic study, and artis­tic cre­ation.” There are, writes the gal­leries’ web­site, Ben­to, “thou­sands of works now ready for you to down­load, mod­i­fy, and share for non­com­mer­cial pur­pos­es.” More than 40,000, to be fair­ly pre­cise.

Freer 4

You can browse the col­lec­tion to your heart’s con­tent by “object type,” top­ic, name, place, date, or “on view.” Or you can con­duct tar­get­ed search­es for spe­cif­ic items. In addi­tion to cen­turies of art from all over the far and near East, the col­lec­tion includes a good deal of 19th cen­tu­ry Amer­i­can art, like the sketch of Whistler’s moth­er, below, per­haps a prepara­to­ry draw­ing for his most famous paint­ing. Though I do rec­om­mend that you vis­it these exquis­ite gal­leries in per­son if you can, you must at least take in their col­lec­tions via this gen­er­ous online col­lec­tion and its boun­ty of inter­na­tion­al artis­tic trea­sures. Get start­ed today.

Whistler 1

via Kot­tke

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Down­load 35,000 Works of Art from the Nation­al Gallery, Includ­ing Mas­ter­pieces by Van Gogh, Gau­guin, Rem­brandt & More

40,000 Art­works from 250 Muse­ums, Now View­able for Free at the Redesigned Google Art Project

Rijksmu­se­um Dig­i­tizes & Makes Free Online 210,000 Works of Art, Mas­ter­pieces Includ­ed!

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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