04 novembro 2018

The Boston Socialite Who Helped Shape The American Art World

American socialite Isabella Stewart first visited Europe as a teenager in 1857. While she was there, she was exposed to Italian Renaissance art, and she fell in love. (With the art, in case that wasn’t clear.) Shortly after returning to the States, her former classmate Julia Gardner invited Isabella to Boston, where she met Julia’s brother John Lowell “Jack” Gardner, 3 years her senior and one of Boston’s most eligible bachelors. He was also rather wealthy.

Now named Isabella Steward Gardner, she became a provocative figure in Boston high society, partially owed to her taste in fashion and eccentric behavior. The Boston society pages called her by many names, including “Belle,” “Donna Isabella,” “Isabella of Boston,” and “Mrs. Jack”. Isabella and her husband Jack were avid travelers, and from the mid-1870s visited the Middle East, Europe, and Asia for long stretches. It was while in Europe they began amassing a large art collection, though Gardner also purchased work in Egypt and the Far East. They were interested not only in paintings, but also ceramics, silver, stained glass, and architectural elements like doors. By 1896, Isabella and Jack Gardner recognized that their house on Beacon Street in Boston’s Back Bay, although enlarged once, was not sufficient to house their growing collection of art, which by now included works by Botticelli, Vermeer, and Rembrandt. When Jack died in 1898, Isabella set out to build a museum for their vast collection.

She purchased land in what was then a marshy area next to Boston, and hired an architect to build a museum modeled on the Renaissance palaces of Venice that she had loved to stay in with Jack. The museum opened in 1903. And it is still hung to Gardner’s specification. You may know the museum because it was the target of a high-value and never-solved robbery in 1990.

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