The Freer Gallery of Art was conceived by its founder, Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), as a museum and a research institution. A Detroit industrialist, Freer collected more than 9,420 art objects and manuscripts before his death, including one of the largest collections of works by James McNeill Whistler; works by contemporary American artists including Childe Hassam, Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, Abbott Handerson Thayer, Thomas Wilmer Dewing, Dwight William Tryon, and Augustus Saint-Gaudens; and major collections of Chinese, Japanese, Egyptian, Near Eastern, and Indian objects.
In 1904, Freer informally proposed to President Theodore Roosevelt that he give to the nation his art collection, funds to construct a building and for an endowment to provide for the study and acquisition of "very fine examples of oriental, Egyptian, and near eastern fine arts." The deed of gift was executed in 1906 after the Smithsonian Institution's Board of Regents accepted Freer's offer on behalf of the government. Construction on the building to house the collection began in 1916 and was completed in 1921. On May 9, 1923, the gallery was opened to the public. The gallery, designed by American architect and landscape planner Charles A. Platt, is an Italian Renaissance-style building of Massachusetts granite and Tennessee marble.
In 1920, John Ellerton Lodge, Curator of the Asiatic Department of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, was appointed the Freer's first Director. Lodge was the personal choice of Freer and continued to maintain his staff position at the Museum of Fine Arts until 1931. Lodge was Director of the Freer Gallery of Art until 1942. For a complete listing of Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery directors, see the Office of the Director history.
In 1982 Arthur M. Sackler gave the Smithsonian his collection of Chinese and Middle Eastern Art, valued at more than fifty million dollars, as well as a gift of four million dollars to help defray construction of a gallery in the Quadrangle Building on the Mall. This donation, known as the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, is administered jointly with the collections of the Freer Gallery of Art. While each gallery had its own sub-director for a time (these do not exist at the present), they have always shared a Director.
Smithsonian Institution Archives, Agency History. Record 217772