Miss Gardner’s House

I took a day trip to Boston recently and if it turns out to be my only excursion out of New York this summer, that would be just fine. Because what a marvelous day it was! I took the train up to Beantown for two reasons: to see my dear friend Bill MacDonald and to visit, finally, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, which was closed for renovations the last time I was in Boston a few years ago. The phrase “must see” might be overused at times, but in the case of the Gardner Museum it is truly appropriate. For art lovers of all stripes, the Gardner is absolutely a “must see”. What a great place! It is the embodiment of its founder – the flamboyant, eccentric art collector and philanthropist Isabella Stewart Gardner.

Painting of Isabella Stewart Gardner by Anders Zorn:

Bill led me first to the courtyard garden and I was instantly captivated. An exquisitely designed space that combines sculptural, architectural, and horticultural elements in beautiful, serene harmony. As I wandered around, it reminded me somewhat of The Cloisters gardens/courtyards in Fort Tryon Park.

Isabella Stewart was born in New York City in 1840 to a well-to-do family. When she was 20 she married John Lowell Gardner, a successful Boston businessman, and the couple spent years traveling the world collecting art, furniture, objects and antiquities. After John Gardner died, Isabella began to fulfill their shared dream of building a museum to house their treasures and display them for the public. On a marshy plot of land in Boston’s Fenway district, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum was built. The maverick spirit of its patron infuses the place. Isabella Stewart Gardner served champagne and donuts on New Year’s Day, kept a pet lion, drank beer, was a faithful Red Sox fan, and a devout Episcopalian. She was Boston’s “Bohemian Millionairess”.

Light conditions inside the Gardner are not very conducive to photography, as it leans toward the dim. But I’ll share some pictures I took anyway even though they’re less than perfect. This one will be familiar to many of you. Nestled in its own private nook is this John Singer Sargent masterpiece, his famous El Jaleo:

Beautiful wall tiles around the garden perimeter:

One of the Gardner Museum’s quirks – an endearing one in my opinion – is its seemingly haphazard arrangement of its art and objects. The orderly, heavily curated groupings we usually see at other museums don’t exist at the Gardner. Instead, the randomness of a religious Renaissance painting hanging a few feet from a Degas pastel, or a hunk of medieval stained glass in the near vicinity of a Japanese screen, provides a peculiarly pleasurable experience in which you are not having a structured art history lesson forced upon you. You’re just enjoying Isabella’s treasures and seeing them arranged as she wanted you to see them.

The Gardner Museum was the site of a notorious art heist back in 1990. The thieves got away with thirteen works of art, among them a Vermeer and a large piece by Rembrandt, The Storm on the Sea of Galilee.Β Bill showed me the empty spaces on the gallery wall where those missing works used to be. But there are other Rembrandts there to see, notably one of his finest self-portraits, along with works by Titian, Raphael, Whistler, and Fra Angelico. Drawings, prints, decorative arts, Islamic, Asian, European, American … a magnificent medley of tastes and genres. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is without a doubt in my top three favorite museums.

After the Gardner, my gracious host and Boston tour guide Bill walked us just a short way over to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. What treasures awaited us there? Oh just some paintings by a guy named Botticelli, and another guy named Matisse. It was a damn good art day πŸ˜‰

The icing on the cake of that lovely day was the cooperation of Mother Nature. The weather could not have been more perfect. Sunny, warm but not hot, a little breezy. Warm thanks to Bill for taking the time to spend a few hours with me. You’re my Boston man!

14 thoughts on “Miss Gardner’s House

  1. kdmedina says:

    That’s inspiring! My niece is starting Berklee in the fall. Maybe I’ll get a chance to visit her!

    Hope all is well!

    • artmodel says:


      How wonderful about your niece! What is her instrument? If you do get to visit her in Boston, try to stop by the Gardner!

      Thanks for commenting.


      • kdmedina says:

        Just saw this. Niece plays fretted instruments. Going for composition and performance. She’s a singer-songwriter. She’s great at musical cal theatre, too.

        I’m moving to Georgia, so I may need to go north on a hot day.

        Seen the Dodgers’ hot streak? Shocking.


  2. artmodelandrew says:

    The Gardner Museum is very cool. I haven’t been there in many years. The art theft remains unsolved nearly 30 years later. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/gardner-museum-art-heist-investigator-arthur-brand-claims-he-has-new-leads/

    I remember last time I visited the MFA Boston (maybe 15 years ago) there was a special exhibit on Wallace and Gromit–not exactly what comes to mind when you think of the Museum of Fine Arts, but it was cool. Sadly the voice of Wallace, Peter Sallis, died recently. http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-40165443

    • artmodel says:


      Thanks for the links! The CBS News one about the Gardner heist is a little crazy. The IRA? Weird. I choose to believe that the paintings have not been destroyed. Imagine if they’re recovered someday? That would be amazing. The Wallace and Gromit exhibit at the MFA does sound cool! It’s an excellent museum with terrific art and nicely organized.

      Thanks again for your comments!


  3. roberta m says:

    What a wonderful place! From your pictures and descriptions, I can see why you would be satisfied with this day trip all summer! Thanks for sharing.

    • artmodel says:


      The Gardner is sooo great! A wonderful place indeed. I’m ready to go back!
      Glad you enjoyed the post and thanks for commenting!


  4. Bill says:

    Wow — I’ve never really thought of myself as “gracious.” But, if you say so . . . πŸ™‚ (Artist rule no. 1 — Never disagree with the Muse.)

    Seriously, it was a pleasure having you visit and showing you around. I knew you’d love the Gardner — it’s definitely “Museworthy”. There is a general feeling of love in that place that almost scents the air — it comes from the artwork and the founder, of course — but also from all the visitors who deem it a special place. You have to wonder how many marriage proposals have been made by that courtyard over the years. Why not — the locale itself would have made it hard to say “no”.

    You don’t see it so much in the Summer, but that courtyard also bears a message of Hope for much of the year. Winters can be pretty harsh around here — and encountering that courtyard in December when the rest of the natural world seems totally dead reminds you that yes, there is a Spring.

    Thank you both for visiting and your kind words — and, needless to say, you’re more than welcome back any time. If the Gardner gets those stolen paintings back, maybe sooner rather than later? πŸ™‚

    P.S. That was a first-rate posting. You might consider sharing it with the people at the Gardner.

    • artmodel says:


      I hadn’t even thought about the courtyard during the winter! Yes, what a lovely relief that green, growing space must provide during the harsh, cold months. And you’re right about the marriage proposals! That is an ideal setting for a romantic moment. I wouldn’t be surprised if Isabella herself had considered the ‘love connection’ possibilities πŸ˜‰

      I hope all Museworthy readers see my comment –> that you are gracious, and a totally good guy and thoughtful friend. As you said, don’t disagree with the Muse!

      Thanks again Bill for a wonderful afternoon. It meant a lot to me πŸ™‚


  5. What a charming setting! I’d love to visit it someday. And I hope to be around when they finally solve the mystery of that heist… (Where did you hide the goods, anyway? πŸ˜‰ )

    • artmodel says:


      How nice to hear from you! Yes the Gardner is ‘charming setting’ personified. You’d love it. Do visit if you ever find yourself out here in the East! As for where I hid the stolen paintings? The Vermeer may or may not be in my attic. Either way …. SSHHH! πŸ˜†

      Thanks for your comments!


  6. Dave says:


    Thanks for the entertaining and enlightening account of your trip to the Gardner. Maybe I can persuade you to come to Michigan next and let me show you around the amazing Detroit Institute of Arts?

    • artmodel says:


      Perhaps Michigan should be my next art stop! DIA has a great collection. And it would be lovely to have you as my tour guide. We’ll see what the future holds!

      Thanks for commenting.


  7. Diana says:

    Very nice trip and journey of history and meaningful words in your blog.

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