The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum feels more like you’re traipsing through Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s home than an art museum near Fenway. For precisely this reason, it’s a must-go on my list.
This unusual museum was the home of Isabella Stewart Gardner. She was an avid art collector in the early 1900s, who set up the museum in her Fenway home and ordered it to be left exactly as it is – which is how you’ll view it today. There are no white gallery walls with succinct wall plaques to identify the beautiful Gothic and Renaissance pieces the house holds.
No photos are allowed in the museum, so I’ll be sharing images from the Gardner Museum website.
The Raphael Room
The Short Gallery
The Little Salon
The Dutch Room
The Spanish Cloisters
When: Open daily 11:00am–5:00pm, Thursday until 9:00pm
Highlights: There are a number of large-scale paintings by John Singer Sargent, including a portrait of Ms. Gardner herself that was deemed so “scandalous” it was hidden from public view during her lifetime by her husband. Don’t miss the beautiful ceiling painting in the Italian Room and the Michelangelo and Raphael sketches hidden behind paneling. The glass courtyard is a beauty to behold with constantly rotating foliage to admire. There are a number of non-art artifacts as well, including a hand-written letter by George Washington.
Of Note: In 1990 a number of works in the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum were stolen, and the robbery remains the largest theft of all time. The thieves stole a Vermeer, 3 Rembrandts, a Manet, 5 Degas, and several other items, amounting to $500 million in art. Several of the frames remain empty on the walls of the museum to this day.
Things to Know: The museum is quite dark inside to protect the artwork. We went on a Thursday night, and the added daylight from the windows would have been helpful in a few rooms. This is cell-phone free museum, you’ll want to keep it tucked away, or one of the many lurking docents will kindly ask you to. Public transportation recommended, as parking in this area of the city is notoriously difficult.
Admission: $15/adult. Free if your name is Isabella. $5/adult if you purchase your tickets through a local library.
The G Cafe inside the museum looks lovely, and gets great reviews. However, we were there at closing time, so we walked around West Fens and tested out a great sushi/hot pot place instead – Swish Shabu. It garnered two sushi-sized thumbs up from all of us!
Does art theft fascinate you as much as it does me?