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Visiting the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Visiting the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

While these days I’m just as happy to go on a food tour as I am to visit a world famous museum, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (I.S.G.M.) was one I didn’t want to miss. Thankfully on my trip to Boston last month I got to do both.

While her name may not be as famous as Morgan and Frick from a Gilded Age historical perspective and most especially an arts one, Isabella Stewart Gardner is huge. Gardner and her husband (and she continued to do so after his premature death) amassed an astounding private art collection that most of us today couldn’t even begin to imagine, thanks to Isabella’s father leaving her his entire fortune (this was gained from trading in linen cloth and iron). Although they traveled abroad extensively beginning in the mid-1870s, the Gardners began to seriously collect works in the late 1890s. Ancient antiquities, biblical art, silver, ceramics, they even “brought home” architectural pieces like doors, stained glass, and mantelpieces. These are the types of items visitors can see on a visit to the I.S.G.M., more than 2500 in total.

Visiting the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Unlike the J.P. Morgan Museum and the Frick Collection in New York, both of which at one time had been the private residences of Morgan and Henry Clay Frick, the I.S.G.M. has always been a museum. Following her husband’s death, Isabella decided to make her and her husband’s wishes of having their collection turned into a museum come true. And when you’re a widow with excessive amounts of disposable income, any old building to house your vast treasures simply won’t do. Isabella actually had the building designed to resemble a 15th century Venetian palace, drawing significant inspiration from the Venetian Palazzo Barbaro. Venice was one of Isabella’s favorite cities and this is quite apparent throughout the museum (in addition to the building’s design, there are innumerable paintings of Venetian scenes).

Visiting the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

It should come as no surprise that my favorite part of the museum was the beautiful courtyard. This was one of the few areas where you could actually take pictures, but even if photography had been forbidden, it still would have been my favorite spot. The design truly incorporates rather perfectly the plants, sculpture, and architectural elements found there. When you see such a space, it’s hard to imagine that the city of Boston is just outside, specifically the Fenway neighborhood which is home to the Boston Red Sox. (Historical side note, when Isabella first purchased the land for the museum, the area was known for being marshy.)

Although the I.S.G.M. is small when compared to an institution like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City or the Louvre in Paris, because there are so many pieces on display in each room, it truly feels massive if you wish to stop and study every single article. Each room in the historic building has laminated handouts you can pick up to identify all of the pieces that are on display and read a brief description on them, but since some rooms are so large, they are broken down into “North Wall,” “South Wall” etc. and sometimes it is hard to identify which wall you’re looking at. And so it got to the point where I simply would stop to admire and then if there was a particular piece I wanted to find out more about, I would try to locate it on the sheet. While the handouts are certainly beneficial, I also feel they slightly detract from the experience because you’re spending more time trying to locate and match the work.

Visiting the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

What Isabella accomplished with the creation of her museum is something from another time-literally and figuratively. Individuals like Isabella and her husband were able to travel the world and bring back priceless antiquities and famed Renaissance-era works of art simply because they could. And these things make visiting the I.S.G.M. even more unique and memorable. It’s not your typical museum and I think that’s exactly the way Isabella Stewart Gardner wanted it.

Visiting the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Tips for visiting

-You can take the Green Line of the T and get off at the Museum of Fine Arts stop. It’s a five minute walk to the museum.

-Admission is free if your name is Isabella. If you come wearing Red Sox gear, you get an admission discount as Isabella was an ardent Red Sox fan.

Visiting the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

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6 Comments

  • Reply
    Daisy @ Simplicity Relished
    October 12, 2015 at 5:02 pm

    This is completely stunning! I can’t believe I haven’t been here– when I visit Boston again I’ll be making sure there’s room in the schedule for this.
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    • Reply
      Julie
      October 13, 2015 at 11:24 am

      Yes, as soon as I saw the pictures of the courtyard I was sold on visiting! The art collection is obviously impressive beyond words but the courtyard was just so beautiful. It was a place where you could definitely sit and relax and enjoy the view 🙂 Now that you know of it, I’m sure you’ll make it there!

  • Reply
    JoAnn0924
    October 14, 2015 at 4:56 pm

    The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum looks and sounds like a beautiful precious jewel box carefully tucked inside the city of Boston!

    Although I have not visited yet, the intimacy you describe probably makes it that much more special. The courtyard is certainly a focal point for visitors. There seems to be beauty from every angle.

    Just by looking at the photos and being familiar with the works of art within, it is safe to say that Gardner and her husband collected things that they truly loved. The museum itself is a work of art!

    Thanks for your great post and gorgeous photos! I enjoyed it very much! 🙂

    • Reply
      Julie
      October 17, 2015 at 8:28 pm

      It definitely was. From the outside, the building is rather nondescript-you simply have no idea what awaits you on the inside between its beautiful design and of course the incredible works.

      And yes, I took photos of the courtyard from various spots and every one, there was some lovely touch of detail to it I felt.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it-museums like this are definitely one of a kind.

  • Reply
    Bridget @ A Traveling B
    November 11, 2015 at 10:19 pm

    I am so glad you made it here! So many people miss it on their first trip to Boston – very impressive!

    The courtyard is just beautoful – it makes the whole museum. My husband took me here for our very first Valentine’s Day. It is just such a special place!

    Interesting fun fact: there was art stolen the 90s by two men who dressed up as Boston Police officers. It is still the biggest private property theft. It is just crazy to me that it was not that long ago!
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    • Reply
      Julie
      November 12, 2015 at 9:34 pm

      It was such a lovely and hidden treat! Although I had of course seen the pictures of the courtyard, being there in person just blew me away! What a lovely and memorable for all time first Valentine’s Day!

      I had heard about those robberies and the fact the paintings are still missing! I remember in the one room seeing the spots where they used to hang. And yes, totally crazy that it was in relatively recent times.

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