The Peacock Room

Posted by Jeff Markowitz on Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Something special happens every time I spend a few minutes sitting in Fred Leyland's dining room.

Frederick R. Leyland was a wealthy British gentleman, an owner of ships in an era when ships were the only means of global travel and commerce.  Which is to say that Frederick Leyland had money and knew how to use it.  Among other things, Leyland was the patron of the painter James McNeil Whistler.  He wanted the dining room of his London home to be a suitable setting to display his collection of fine Chinese porcelain (as well as one of his Whistlers) so Leyland commissioned the respected interior architect Thomas Jeckyll to design the room.  Confident that everything was under control, Leyland went to Liverpool to attend to his shipping business.   

And everything went well until Jeckyll consulted with Whistler.  To make a long story short, Whistler took over the project, pushing Jeckyll aside, adding gilded paint and peacocks and extraordinary cost overruns.  And, as if that wasn't enough, while Leyland was away in Liverpoool, Whistler used  Leyland's London home to entertain friends.  The Peacock Room was completed in 1877.

(photo credits -

The room, in its entirety, has since been moved to the Freer Gallery at the Smithsonian in Washington DC. 

Whenever I sit in the Peacock Room, the mystery writer in me thinks about writing a period piece, a Victorian murder mystery set in Frederick Leyland's dining room.  I wonder what might have happened, if, while Whistler was entertaining friends in Leyland's home, someone had found a dead body.

Then I look at the peacocks and smile.

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