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Art & The Vine: Whistler’s Peacock Room and Peacock Family Vineyard

Peacock Room

Freer Gallery of Art

Washington, D.C.


Since Farmguy and I are traveling to Washington D.C. every week for our wine course, we’re also taking advantage of being near so many fantastic museums.  During one of our recent trips to our nation’s capital, and on the suggestion of my art teacher, we visited the Freer Gallery of Art and the famous Harmony in Blue and Gold:  The Peacock Room by American artist James McNeill Whistler.  The Freer Gallery of Art and The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery form the Smithsonian Institution’s national museums of Asian art in the United States and house the largest Asian art research library in the country.  These museums contain art from East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Islamic world, the ancient Near East, and ancient Egypt as well as a significant collection of American Art.

Before the Peacock Room became a work of art by James McNeill Whistler, it was the dining room in the London mansion of Frederick Leyland. Its shelves were designed to showcase the British shipping magnate’s collection of Chinese blue-and-white porcelain. The Peacock Room reflects the tension between the artist and his first significant patron. Leyland had hired Thomas Jeckyll, a prominent architect, to design a display space for his mostly blue and white Qing dynasty (1644-1911) porcelain collection. Because Whistler’s painting, The Princess from the Land of Porcelain was hung over the fireplace, Jeckyll consulted Whistler about the room’s color scheme. While Leyland headed back to Liverpool on business, Jeckyll, having health problems, stopped overseeing the work. Whistler, however, pressed on, adding many design details, including the peacocks on the shutters.

In a letter to Leyland, Whistler promised “a gorgeous surprise.” Well, Leyland certainly was surprised, especially by embellishments far more extensive and expensive than anticipated—some 2,000 guineas (about $200,000 today).  After Leyland agreed to pay only half, Whistler did some more work on the room. He painted two more peacocks on the wall opposite The Princess. The birds faced each other, on ground strewn with silver shillings, as if about to fight. Whistler titled the mural Art and Money; or, the Story of the Room. Then Whistler painted an expensive leather wall covering with a coat of shimmering Prussian blue, an act of what might be called creative destruction. According to Lee Glazer, curator of American art, after Whistler finished in 1877, Leyland told him he would be horse-whipped if he appeared at the house again. But Leyland kept Whistler’s work.

Leyland died in 1892. A few years later, Charles Lang Freer, a railroad-car manufacturer and Whistler collector who had earlier bought The Princess, acquired the Peacock Room. He installed it in his Detroit mansion as a setting for his own extensive collection of Asian pottery and stoneware. For Freer, the Peacock Room embodied his belief that “all works of art go together, whatever their period.”

Freer bequeathed his Whistler collection, including the Peacock Room, to the Smithsonian in 1906, 13 years before his death. For the new exhibition, curators have arranged the room as it looked after coming to America, with the kind of pottery and celadon pieces that Freer collected and displayed, instead of the blue and white porcelain favored by Leyland.  Whistler’s extravagant interior has been on permanent display since the Freer Gallery of Art opened in 1923.

If you’re interested in visiting this wonderful museum, it’s open 364 days a year (closed on Christmas), and it’s located on the south side of the National Mall in Washington, D.C.  Also, there’s a super cute children’s book that tells the story of The Peacock Room.  It’s titled, The Princess and the Peacocks by Linda Merrill.





Peacock Family Vineyard

 Napa Valley

Spring Mountain District

“Humility and excellence proceed from service, work, discipline, and passion.  Nature, with its vines wrapped in autumnal habitat, perpetually calls us as a powerful siren.  We acknowledge that with the Infinite there will always be transformation and change.

The Peacock family is proud of creating this balanced estate wine which reflects our commitment to the singular mountainside terroir that exists here 1000 feet above the Napa Valley.  From our table to yours, we wish you the many blessings of human fellowship that come from the sacrament of sharing bread and wine with family and friends.”

~Peacock Family Vineyard


I recently discovered this beautiful and bold Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon made by a boutique winery which only produces 600 cases of wine per year. Peacock Family Vineyards, consisting of approximately 6 acres, is located in the Spring Mountain District, just outside of the town of St. Helena.  It was founded in 1993 by Chris and Betsy Peacock.  The vineyard sits on the side of a saddle which overlooks the lower part of Spring Mountain as well as onto the Napa Valley floor. Much of the vineyard is planted to a specific clone of Cabernet Sauvignon although individual block replantings will introduce additional Cabernet clones.  They also make a rare (for Spring Mountain) Pinot Noir.

Farmguy and I tasted and evaluated this excellent wine over the weekend, and all I can say is…wow!  It has so much going on that it took me forever to write my tasting note; however, I’m pretty sure it’s now my new favorite red wine. Here’s why:

Peacock Family Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

Spring Mountain District 2012

This wine’s deep ruby color is indicative of its jammy black fruit character which explodes with its pronounced intensity on the nose and palate.  A fully developed Cabernet Sauvignon with notes of blackberry, blackcurrant, black cherry, violet, vanilla, chocolate, baking spices, and lots of cooked fruit.  It expresses a wonderful earthiness with mushroom as well.  It doesn’t stop there, either.  There are also hints of eucalyptus, tobacco, smoke, and leather.  This dry, full-bodied wine has medium + acidity; round and smooth, but high tannins; high alcohol at 15.3 ABV, and a super long finish.  Its combination of fabulous complexity, balance, intensity, and finish make this an outstanding wine that you can certainly drink now or age.  This Cabernet Sauvignon is perfect as a meditation wine or may be paired with the following foods:  Beef Bourguignon (especially with the earthiness of the mushrooms in this dish), grilled meats or wild game (elk, venison), grilled eggplant, hard cheeses (aged, blue, or stinky), and of course, chocolate.

Although it’s a bit of a splurge at around $100, it’s definitely worth it as a special occasion wine. And, if you own a Coravin, you can enjoy a glass and not even open the bottle, saving the rest for another time.


Thanks so much for joining me for another Art & The Vine post.  I hope you have a wonderful week!


  1. “Wow, Tonya!” Oh how I enjoyed these beautiful photos! I am rather fond of peacocks; once when visiting a zoo, a peacock strolled by. As it came near me I literally said, “Can you stop so I can take a picture of you?” Lo and behold, it did! Hahahaha I snapped the pic and off he (she?) went. From then on, I’ve felt a kinship with this dear creature! So thank you, Tonya! Cher xo

    Liked by 1 person

    • Exquisite is the perfect word for the Peacock Room, Osyth. 🙂

      You will really enjoy DC, and it would be my pleasure to make suggestions for your visit! Farmguy and I have discovered all kinds of lovely galleries, museums, restaurants, and shops I would love to share with you. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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