Our traveling Australian niece has returned to the U.S. from her jaunt around Europe. Yesterday, she and I planned to meet in the city for a visit to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, which she had never heard of and I have always wanted to explore. If you ever come this area and get a chance, take the time to view this magnificent but approachable collection, developed by a unique woman with a passion for culture.
The story goes something like this: Isabella Gardner and her husband amassed a wealth of cultural and art objects, and after Isabella inherited her father’s fortune they decided to create a museum. Her husband died before they could achieve their goal, but she persevered. Purchasing land in a (then) little used section of Boston, she built an extraordinary building that houses amazing artifacts spanning thirty centuries.
According to the museum website, Isabella said: "Years ago I decided that the greatest need in our Country was Art… We were a very young country and had very few opportunities of seeing beautiful things, works of art… So, I determined to make it my life's work if I could." Her fascinations included Venice as well as horticulture, so the building was designed as a 15th century Venetian dwelling surrounding a four story courtyard, featuring stunning plantings arranged around raked stone paths. Depending on the time of year, the gardens reflect the season; yesterday, lush green plantings were offset by mounds of brilliant red poinsettias and crimson amaryllis.
Slowly we toured the tiled and creaky wooden floored building, fascinating by the groupings of relics that were arranged to the specifications of the museum creator, who dictated in her will that no arrangement be changed. Her request has been honored, with the exception of a bold and unsolved robbery in 1990, in which two robbers, dressed as policemen knocked on the door in the middle of the night. Thirteen priceless paintings were stolen, including works by Degas, Manet and Rembrandt. As we walked through the museum, we came upon empty frames and I realized the enormity of the crime…in removing the art the perpetrators not only stole from a collection, but also from you and me…
At the end of our tour, we rested a velvet cushioned bench for several minutes, gazing at the courtyard, where filtered light brightened stone fountains and untouched pathways cut beside marble statues. The trickle of water soothed, arched windows peered down at succulent greenery, and everyone, visitors and workers alike, spoke in hushed voices embellished with smiles; in awe at the this gift of beauty a generous benefactor left for a city.
Plan your visit on your birthday and receive free admission. Oh, and by the way, if your name is Isabella, consider yourself in a world of lucky. You can visit the museum anytime. For free.
Happy Friday all!