Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Tuesday – Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Admission free with MIT student ID
In celebration of the Red Sox winning the American League in 1912, a distinguished woman attended a performance of the Boston Symphony Orchestra touting a headband with, “Oh, You Red Sox” splashed across it and caused quite a stir in the media. This is one of many stories, both true and false, about Isabella Stewart Gardner, or “Mrs. Jack.” She did nothing to deny or affirm these claims about her, and is often quoted as saying, “Don’t spoil a good story by telling the truth.”
A truly fascinating woman and one of the legends of her time, Gardner was an art collector, a leading patron of music and the arts, and a philanthropist. She loved adventure, and traveled extensively around Europe, the Middle East and Asia, where she acquired many of her art pieces. She was also very sociable, and frequently wrote letters and hosted parties. Her correspondents and guests included renowned authors, artists, and musicians such as Henry James and John Singer Sargent.
While Gardner was still a girl, she wrote in a letter to a friend that, “If I ever have any money of my own, I am going to build a palace and fill it with beautiful things.” Fortunately, she was able to realize this dream when she opened Fenway Court in 1903, now known as the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
Gardner devoted herself to the creation of this museum. As her favorite city was Venice, the building was designed in the style of a Venetian palace. It contains a remarkable and incredibly diverse collection. All the artwork — and in this museum you soon realize that everything is a work of art — is arranged tastefully and with great care. In some cases, Gardner spent months on end perfecting the arrangement of objects within a room. She wanted to display her treasures in a very personal way, and one that would kindle a love of art in others.
Objects in the collection range from musical instruments to fabrics, sketches, tiles, sculptures and furniture. They originate from different eras — such as the Middle Ages and the Renaissance — and from different regions, like Japan, Turkey, or Mexico. Some of the works are by such masterful artists as Botticelli, Titian, Vermeer, Rembrandt, Degas, and Matisse.
The result is an ever-interesting viewing experience. Visitors can lift a cloth to peruse letters from T.S. Eliot, they can examine the incredible intricacies of a silver candle-holder, and they can marvel at ancient objects — say, a choir book from the 1400s (which is probably as heavy as I am) — the spine of which looks as though it was made from the hide of a dragon. They can also relax in the courtyard, where there are Japanese lanterns, lush vegetation, and Greek statues.
This museum inspires an appreciation of art and is a joy to explore. It reflects Gardner’s personality and passion for life, and does justice to her vision for a place to enjoy art in all its forms.