Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

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Established : 1903

Founder : Isabella Stewart Gardner

Architect : Willard T. Sears

Accreditation : American Alliance of Museums

Address : 25 Evans Way, Boston, MA 02115, United States

Timings : 11:00 am to 5:00 pm (Friday- Monday), 11:00 am to 9:00 pm (Thursday), Tuesday closed

Admission Fee : USD 20 (adults), USD 18 (seniors), USD 13 (students)

Exhibitions : Gentile Bellini and the East, Off the Wall: Gardner and Her Masterpieces, Beyond Words: Italian Renaissance Books, A Bronze Menagerie: Mat Weights of Early China, Once, Cliff Evans: Empyrean etc.

Closest Subway Stations : Museum of Fine Arts stop, Ruggles stop

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Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston Overview

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston is an art museum that was previously home to the philanthropist, collector and art patron of the same name. The museum’s construction began in 1896 and it houses a massive collection of art works, many of which were owned by Isabella Stewart. Besides its impressive collections, the museum is known to organise a number of exhibitions, as it has done over the years.

Built in 1903, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is an art museum in Boston that features different art pieces, like paintings, sculptures, furniture, textiles, books etc., from around the world. The museum was named after its former owner, Isabella Stewart Gardner, who was an art enthusiast, philanthropist and collector, and its design is predominantly inspired by Palazzo Barbaro, a Venetian Palace. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in the year 1983 and declared a Boston Landmark by the Boston Landmarks Commission in 2013, and is situated close to the Museum of Fine Arts.

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The Construction and Design of Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Isabella Stewart Gardner, once she decided to exhibit her vast art collection, hired Willard T. Sears to build Fenway Court in the Back Bay Fens area of Boston. The philanthropist was largely involved in its design and wanted it to look somewhat similar to a 15th-century Venetian palace, namely the Palazzo Barbaro. The structure incorporates elements of the European Gothic and Renaissance styles of architecture and it is often believed that it was built in Venice and later brought to Boston, but that is not the case.

The museum has a garden courtyard which is surrounded by galleries, all the way up to the third floor. The structure is quite unique and contains several antique elements. The tiles for the floors were specially designed, modern concrete was used in some places and modern columns stand tall with antique capitals on top. Moreover, there is a glass roof with a steel support system over the garden courtyard that is adorned with numerous flowers. The overall layout of the museum as well as the art pieces, along with the low lighting, evoke a sense of intimacy, just like Gardner intended.

The Extensive Art Collection of Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Not only was Gardner the first in the country to possess a Botticelli, she had a massive collection of various art works, including paintings (about 7,500), furniture, manuscripts (even illuminated), early-edition books, incunables, sculptures, silver, ceramics, textiles, rare books (1,500), 7,000 letters from about a 1,000 correspondents, like T.S Eliot and Henry Adams, as well as archival objects from all around the world like Medieval Rome, Asia, Renaissance Italy, America, Islamic nations etc. Her collection included artists like Titian, Botticelli, Sargent, Michelangelo, Manet, Dages and also the first Matisse in America.

Some of the well-known art pieces include:
  • The Rape of Europa by Titian
  • El Jaleo and Portrait of Isabella Stewart Gardner by John Singer Sargent
  • Bindo Altoviti by Cellini
  • The Story of Lucretia by Botticelli
  • Lady in Black by Tintoretto
  • Self-portrait, aged 23 by Rembrandt

Programs Hosted by Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Ever since Isabella Stewart Gardner, the museum has been hosting a number of programs, that include lectures, educational exhibitions (eg: Gentile Bellini and the East and Anders Zone: A European Artist Seduces America), symposia, performances, family programs etc., to inspire other artists and of course, also to exhibit the numerous art works.

The Artist-in-Residence program is a popular one where the museum invites all sorts of artists to stay at the museum and fashion their work inspired by its extensive art collection; these artists get an opportunity to exhibit their work.

Through the Gardner concert series, many emerging and established musicians get a chance to perform classical, contemporary music and jazz amongst others, on Sunday afternoons and sometimes on Thursdays; concert videos, free classical music podcasts and audio recordings are available for those who wish to listen to the musical programs.

Not only was Gardner an art enthusiast, she also loved horticulture, and this is reflected in the garden courtyard and the museum’s overall layout. The way in which the galleries are laid out around the courtyard provides visitors with a gorgeous view of the many flowers and sculptures, an interplay of art, architecture and horticulture. Landscapes Vision lectures and Ask the Gardner are some well-known programs entertaining an interest in the “art of the landscape.”

Interestingly, Gardner was a fan of Boston Red Sox, a baseball team, and all those come to the museum in the team’s attire or on their birthday get a discount, along with anyone who is named Isabella.

How to Reach Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Getting to Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is quite simple, either in a car, on a bike or via public transportation. When coming in a car, there are a few metered as well as free parking options around the museum; the Simmons School of Management Garage is quite close by, at 86 Avenue Louis Pasteur while the Museum of Fine Arts has 3 parking lots available. Biking is a good idea since there is a bike rack towards the right side of the museum and renting a bike at Hubway stations is also an option. On the other hand, the Green Line E and the Orange Line of the MTBA Subway drop off passengers at the Museum of Fine Arts and Ruggles stop respectively, while buses 8, 19, 39, 47, CT2 and CT3 have stops nearby.

History of Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Before there was an art museum, the building that existed was home to Isabella Stewart Gardner, who was a lover and collector of art, and a philanthropist. Built in 1903, it was largely inspired by Palazzo Babaro, a 15th century Venetian palace. Her inheritance enabled her to begin collecting precious pieces of art, that included The Concert by Johannes Vermeer and a Botticelli (the acquisition of the latter made her the first American to possess the painter’s work).

Following her husband’s death in 1898, she decided to build a fitting space to exhibit the many art works they owned and thus, she hired architect Willard T. Sears to build Fenway Court, a house in Boston’s Fenway area, loosely inspired by Renaissance Venetian palaces. Gardner was extremely involved in the house’s design and Sears served primarily as a structural engineer, and once the construction was done, she herself arranged the many art works; paintings, furniture, textiles and others. However, the layout of the museum is quite different today.

The museum’s opening in 1903 was grand and included performances by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Given that Gardner was such an art enthusiast, she often invited different artists like John Singer Sargent and Ruth St. Denis to Fenway Court so as to inspire them and also organized exhibitions such as that of Anna Coleman Ladd; the contemporary Artist-in-Residence program of the museum is a tribute to her, along with the concerts, education programs and courtyard garden displays.

Gardner left behind a will that assigned $1 million and included outlined stipulations which were meant specifically for the museum’s preservation. It also stated that her collection must be permanently displayed at the museum for the public’s education as well as enjoyment. Morris Carter was chosen as the first director and George L. Stout as the second, with the latter ensuring that the collections and the building were well preserved.

In 1990, the museum suffered from a major loss when 2 robbers came disguised as police officers and stole art works worth about $500 million, which included The Concert; the pieces were never recovered and the theft came to be known as greatest known property theft ever.

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