Monday, August 17, 2009

Boston: Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum

Isabella Stewart Gardner - Painted by John Singer Sargent 

Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840-1924) was an American art collector, philanthropist, and patron of the arts. Gardner’s collection, which began in earnest in 1891 and is housed at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, first opened to the public in 1903. The museum, designed by Gardner, was inspired by the design of Palazzo Barbaro in Venice where she regularly spent time. In fact, it was fun to walk into the museum, see that spectacular central courtyard and the layout of the rooms and feel transported back to Italy for a little while. 

The famous John Singer Sargent portrait (pictured above) of her hangs in the Gothic gallery on the third floor. It is one of two pieces of artwork in that gallery that are not gothic. The audio guide suggested a quasi-religious aspect to the painting with what almost looks like halos around here that is somehow in keeping with the theme of the room. Or maybe since this is the last room on the “tour” she is simple saying goodbye? 

The arrangement of the galleries and eclectic mix of artwork was stipulated by Gardner in her will so we are seeing, I’m guessing, the collection close to the way she would have wanted it to be seen. This includes several rather large and empty frames in the Dutch Room that used to contain paintings by Rembrandt and Vermeer that were stolen in 1990. The paintings were never recovered but the frames were kept where they are partly to honor Gardner's stipulation and partly to raise awareness in the viewer. Keep alert, because there is a reward for information leading to the return of the stolen art. 

When visiting the museum, pay for the audio guide if you have no idea who Gardner was or what the museum is about. It is well worth it and it will slow you down so you can truly enjoy the museum spaces.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Brochure

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