Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Note: Dated
When: August 18th, 2005 | Where: Boston, Massachusetts

My [former] grandmother-in-law and I stumbled upon the Gardner Museum completely by mistake–credit my forgetfulness. We were supposed to be visiting the Museum of Fine Arts during our Boston visit, but I (naturally) forgot the all-important discounted passes I made such a fuss about getting from my local library. Kate had mentioned something about this to me one time when we were waiting at the DMV (that’s a whole other story!) and it seemed interesting; neither one of us had ever been before. I wasn’t sure what to expect–something along the lines of an old lady’s house. I didn’t expect it to be so grand or so impactive.

A little background: Isabella Stewart Gardner (married to John L. Gardner) was a wealthy socialite in the mid 1800s (1840-1923); she loved Boston’s local culture almost as she loved traveling the world. Her passion was apparent from the moment we stepped into the museum–at one time, the Gardner Museum was her home–and an incredibly stunning one at that; completely unique from anything you could possibly imagine. All 2,500 works of art, sculpture, furniture, tapestries (13 of its finest–estimated at $100 million–were stolen in 1990 and are still missing)–ranging from ancient to mid 19th-century and collected from over 30 countries–have been preserved (for the most part) the way she had arranged them, because that was her parting wish–for all the beautiful things she collected on her travels to be displayed for posterity.

The collection amassed at the Gardner Museum is something more stunning than any museum display I have ever seen. Instead of the harsh halogenic glow and curated atmosphere; I felt as if I had been taken back in time, looking into each room, at each painting, at each sculpture. The courtyard is the most notable–the museum is built around it; with its 240 A.D. mosaic surrounded by stone statues and a graceful fountain on the back wall. It is serene, beautiful, magical; untouched and essentially unchanged since Isabella was alive. Kate and I were completely slack-jawed in amazement as we visited each room, commenting on things as we passed. What struck us most was the intricate detail of everything, and the rich, beautiful history–the art was sensational and deeply moving.

The only way to explain the enchantment of the Gardner Museum is to go there yourself. It’s such a gem of Boston. The things that I found the most interesting were the furniture (you just don’t see curves, paint detailing, scroll work) like that anymore–it’s all pre-fab and everyone’s got the same stuff unless it’s antique) and the ancient Greek sculptures, as well as the religious art. Isabella was a brilliant decorator. She styled her home in an Old-World eclectic style, mixing things from different places and times and arranging them in often quirky and atypical ways. Our visit was fascinating and inspiring–I truly think it was a one-of-a-kind experience I was lucky to have.

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