Review: Talk – the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Review: Talk – the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Venice in Boston

An Italian palazzo built in Boston, Massachusetts in 1901 was the creation of a wealthy American art lover and socialite during Boston’s gilded age.

Art historian Phyllis Mossman recently told a large group of Friends of Te Papa the fascinating story of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Gardner was a delightful social, slightly eccentric but knowledgeable and astute woman who fell in love with Italy, Renaissance Art and Venice during her regular trips to Europe at the end of the 19 th century. With the wealth and dealer contacts to indulge her passion, she accumulated a large collection of art, sculpture, ceramics, books, tapestries and ephemera. Her collection eventually outgrew her home so she and her husband built a Venetian style house to live in and display her collection. Today it remains much as she arranged it with rooms such as the Spanish, Dutch, Gothic, Raphael and Titian rooms. Mossman admitted that some of these rooms can seem somewhat dark and there are no caption labels on the walls, only room plans and content descriptions on cards.

Gardner’s will stated that nothing was to be sold or acquired for the collection. Sadly, in 1990 13 valuable works were stolen from the museum and have never been recovered. In recent years an adjoining modern building has been constructed to house administration, a café, shop, concert rooms and educational seminar rooms.

I was lucky enough to visit this museum in 2019. The central courtyard of the palazzo was filled with lush plants and flowers and a tenor was singing for the entertainment of museum visitors. The richness of his voice enhanced the richness and spirituality of the items on display.

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum complements the many artistic and architectural attractions Boston offers such as the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Across the other side of the Charles River the Harvard Art Museums (ie. the Fogg, Busch-Reisinger and Arthur M Sackler Museums) also offer wonderful viewing opportunities for art lovers.

Reviewed by Anabright Hay.

Feature image: Detail from: The courtyard of the Venetian Palace style Museum (built 1898–1901). Provided by and reproduced courtesy of P Mossman.