A Unique Museum
In 1903, Isabella Stewart Gardner built a Venetian palace to house her massive art collection. Today, The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is a small private art museum featuring works by great painters such as Raphael, Rembrandt, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Titian, Sargent and Whistler. Renowned for its superb collection of paintings and decorative arts, the museum also features a tranquil courtyard blooming with seasonal flowers amidst ancient European statuary and mosaics.
Who was Isabella Stewart Gardner?
Isabella Stewart Gardner was an American woman of wealth and influence who lived during the time known as the Gilded Age. She was born amidst New York City’s high society in 1840. At the age of twenty, Isabella married Jack Gardner, acquiring the nickname ‘Mrs. Jack.’ The couple moved to Boston, Jack’s hometown, making that New England city their permanent residence. The devastating loss of her only child several years later led young Mrs. Gardner to assuage her grief through travel and art.
Travel and Art
For thirty years Gardner traveled the globe adding to her collection. Collaborating with famous art critic Bernard Berenson who lived in Florence enabled Isabella to acquire numerous Renaissance masterpieces. Her goal was to create a collection of fine art for Americans to enjoy on their home turf.
Patron of the Arts
Traveling in Europe enabled Mrs. Jack to kindle friendships with contemporary musicians, writers and artists such as Henry James, John Singer Sargent and James McNeill Whistler. Isabella’s love for the arts and generous nature led her to become the foremost art patron of the time.
Love of Venice
The Gardners returned to Venice again and again. They rented the majestic 15th century palace on the Grand Canal, the Palazzo Barbaro. Here they entertained the rich and the famous. While in Venice at the Barbaro, Isabella was inspired to build her own palazzo across the pond in Boston. In fact, the rosy hued walls overlooking the garden courtyard at The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum today closely resemble the facade of Venice’s Palazzo Barbaro.
Visiting The Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum
Boston’s Venetian Palace looks very similar to the way it did when Mrs. Jack lived there. She had arranged every detail of fabric, furniture and art and in her will stipulated that this arrangement never be permanently changed. Therefore, the museum is not only a place to view outstanding art, but also provides a personal glimpse into the character and personality of its creator.
When you visit, take the highlights guided tour and hear the stories behind the art and the woman who brought these treasures to Boston.