Thursday, July 25, 2013

Art in an Intimate Setting

Yesterday, my friend, Teague and I took a trip to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. My first visit to the museum was just after the theft of 13 pieces of the collection in 1990. The artwork has never been recovered.

Mrs. Gardner was born into wealth and married into one of old Boston's wealthy families. She and her husband, Jack, traveled widely and to help with the depression after the death of their only child, they collected art. Lots of art. The Gardners had so much art, they needed to build a museum to house it all. In her young adult years abroad, Mrs. Gardner had stayed with a family in Venice who had a palazzo to house their art collection. So, that's what they planned. Sadly, Jack Gardner died suddenly after the architect's drawings were completed so he never saw the dream realized. Mrs. Gardner purchased land in the Back Bay area of Boston known as The Fens across from the Muddy River and an Italianate palace was built.

What makes this four story museum so unique is specified in her will.  None of the artwork was to be moved or labeled. Floor to ceiling, all of the rooms are filled with paintings, furniture, tapestries, objet d'art, correspondence, books, manuscripts, music. Art in most museums are arranged in some sort of logical manner either in a timeline, by genre, location, artists. There isn't an obvious rhyme or reason as to how Mrs. Gardner arranged her collection. Part of the fun of touring her home is to try to figure out the common thread of the art in all the rooms. Sadly, the museum doesn't allow photographs to be taken of the rooms or artwork.

Another beautiful feature of Mrs. Gardner's home is the courtyard protected from the elements by a curved greenhouse roof. The courtyard was in bloom with white and blue hydrangeas in between statues, fountains, and stone walkways. The courtyard is visible from balconies on each floor of the museum and a popular spot to sketch.

Since Mrs. Gardner's will was so specific about how the art was to be displayed, I was curious how the museum could add an addition to the museum. One of the docents told me the museum's lawyers combed Mrs. Gardner's will. Her wishes focused on the interior of the building. Nothing was mentioned about the grounds or a carriage house. Leave it to the lawyers to find a loophole. An attempt was made to save the carriage house, but the building was too old to be saved so the new building took its place. The new addition houses a large auditorium and the Cafe G. The Cafe was filled so we weren't able to eat lunch inside, but the Cafe had a small patio with tables and chairs and a limited menu of sandwiches and soft drinks which was fine for us.

Other than getting lost, stuck in gridlocked traffic due to road construction, and having to wait for a herd of geese to cross the street, it was a perfect day.

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