Isabella Stewart Gardner


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Collector and museum founder. Fenway Court, her opulent Boston residence reminiscent of a Venetian palazzo, houses the museum that bears her name. Noted particularly for its Renaissance paintings, her collection comprises also sculpture, prints, books and manuscripts, and decorative arts dating from antiquity through the nineteenth century. Gardner's motto, C'est mon plaisir, characterizes the museum's spirit as well as her own freewheeling style. Born in New York, Isabella Stewart was educated in private schools there and in Paris. Following marriage in 1860 to wealthy Bostonian John Lowell (“Jack”) Gardner Jr., she resided in Boston but regularly traveled the world. During the 1870s, as she seriously began to collect books, manuscripts, and prints, Charles Eliot Norton often served as her advisor. Later her interest shifted to painting, and Bernard Berenson directed her taste toward the Renaissance. Her collection eventually encompassed examples by Giotto, Botticelli, Titian, Vermeer, Rembrandt, Rubens, and other old masters. She also acquired work from contemporary artists she knew, including John Singer Sargent, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, and cosmopolitan Swedish-born painter Anders Zorn. Construction of Fenway Court began in 1899, and the collection opened to the public in 1903. Although most of her major pieces were in hand by then, she made additions to the collection until about 1916. Partially paralyzed by a stroke at the end of 1919, she no longer managed the museum on her own but nevertheless continued to reside in Fenway Court's private quarters. In her will, Gardner stipulated that the museum remain permanently as she left it, in an arrangement she considered an integrated aesthetic ensemble. Comfortably complemented in the galleries by antique furniture and decorative arts, her paintings and other treasures surround a lushly planted interior court evoking the richness of Italy.

Subjects: Art.

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