The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum: A European Palace of Art in the Heart of Boston
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston is one of the most unique museums that I’ve ever been to. And you should trust me because, as a history buff, I’ve been to a LOT of museums! You are, probably, most familiar with the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum from the art heist of 1993 when 13 pieces were stolen in a still unresolved crime. Leaving mental scenes of movie-like robberies aside, if you’re ever in Boston, I strongly encourage you to visit in order to see not only the immense art collection but also to take in the incredible setting: a mock 15th century Venetian palace! Where else are you going to be able to see that in the United States?!
As you enter the museum, the first striking visual is the exceedingly gorgeous garden courtyard filled with blooming flowers and tropical plants surrounded by four walls that incorporate Gothic and Renaissance architectural structures. The heavenly enclosure is most definitely a place to get your photo taken or to snap a selfie.
All of the magnificently decorated rooms of the three-floored palace surround the courtyard. Each contains a fabulous array of paintings, tapestries, furniture, lighting fixtures, sculptures and other works of art from all around the globe. Weaving in and out of rooms, you’ll discover treasure after treasure.
After her father’s death in 1891, Isabella Stewart Gardner received a large inheritance and began seriously collecting pieces of art. Working alongside an architect, she designed the current museum as a home in the style of a Venetian palace. Many visitors believe that the building was disassembled in Italy and then moved, piece by piece, to Boston. In fact, the structure was constructed, in its current location, out of concrete and was crowned with a lofty glass roof held up by steel supports. To give it a rich, historic feel, antique architectural elements were worked into the building. When it was finished, Gardner installed her art collection and opened her unique museum home to the public on January 1, 1903. Due to its location in the Fens district of Boston, it came to be known as Fenway Court. Isabella welcomed many famous artists and intellectuals into her home, where they drew inspiration from the phenomenal surroundings. Today, the museum holds over 7,500 individual pieces of art, 1,500 rare books, and 7,000 archival objects that span the entire course of world history from ancient Rome and China to 19th century France. Wow!
As you wander around the marvelous structure, you’ll encounter stately rooms full of imposing architectural and artistic pieces. However, you’ll also come across more intimate spaces that are cordoned off so that only a limited number of people are allowed in at one time. In those less monumental spaces, you’ll experience close encounters with the most iconic pieces of art, such as Whistler’s “Harmony in Blue and Silver”, Degas’ “Portrait of Josephine Gaujelin”, and Matisse’s “The Terrace, St. Tropez”. The museum also contains many works by John Singer Sargent who was a frequent guest of Isabella Stewart Gardner. Perhaps, the most famous pieces in the collection are Rembrandt’s “Self-Portrait”, Botticelli’s “Story of Lucretia”, Fra Angelico’s “Death and Assumption of the Virgin”, and Titian’s “Rape of Europa”.
When Isabella Stewart Gardner died in 1924, she left behind a large endowment and specific instructions that her home and collection be put on permanent display “for the education and enjoyment of the public forever”. Thanks to her passion and generosity, we can continue to enjoy such incredible works of art today.
However, I need to be completely honest with you. I’m no art connoisseur. I know very little about the subject, and, believe it or not, I don’t usually spend too much time in art museums. However, I found myself really taking my time when exploring the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. I felt like, for a few hours, I had left Boston and been transported to Europe, where I was the guest of some historic noble family in their majestic Renaissance palace. I’ve never before visited a museum that evoked that kind of sentiment. That’s why I believe the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum is an exceptional artistic and historic experience for those visiting the city of Boston.
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is located at 25 Evans Way in Boston, Massachusetts.
If you’re already in the city, the easiest way to get there is by public transportation. Take the Green Line of the MBTA (or the “T” as, we, Bostonians call it) to the Museum of Fine Arts stop. From there, click the link above to get walking directions.
If you’re driving in from outside of the city, click on the link above to get directions. If you’re visiting on a weekend, you may find metered parking spaces outside the museum. If not, I would advise parking in the nearby garage of the Simmons School of Management at 86 Avenue Louis Pasteur. The museum allows you to receive a discounted rate. See their website for more details.