In December 1773 a group of men dressed as Native Americans boarded some ships moored…
During our most recent visit to Boston, we decided we needed to get a culture fix by going to one of the galleries or museums that the city has to offer. After a bit of research, we were intrigued by the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. So off we set to check it out!
Well, who was Isabella Stewart Gardner? She was born in New York City on April 14, 1840 into a well-to-do family. Her father, David Stewart, made his fortune importing Irish linen and later through investments. The family lived on University Place in the West Village. Isabella was privately educated in New York and “finished” abroad. A Paris schoolmate, Julia Gardner, introduced Isabella to her brother, John “Jack” Lowell Gardner Jr. In 1860, a few days before her 20th birthday, Isabella Stewart married Jack Gardner in Grace Church in New York City. They moved to his hometown of Boston and settled into a house in the fashionable Back Bay at 152 Beacon Street.
They developed a bug for travelling go to places such as Egypt and the Middle East (1874-75), and Asia (1883-84). Back home she was drawn to the intellectual life of Boston and Cambridge, which resulted in her passion for collecting rare books and manuscripts, beginning with early editions of Dante’s works.
Sadly, Jack Gardner died suddenly of a stroke on December 10, 1898. Six weeks later, Isabella Gardner continued with their shared plan to purchase a plot of land in the Fens. She worked with the architect to design a building in the style of the great Venetian palazzos. Construction of Isabella’s museum began in 1899 and was completed in late 1901. She moved into the private fourth-floor living quarters and devoted herself to personally arranging works of art in the historic galleries on the first three floors. In 1901 and 1902, Isabella installed her collection of paintings, sculptures, tapestries, furniture, manuscripts, rare books, and decorative arts.
Isabella Stewart Gardner suffered a stroke in 1919 but continued to receive guests in her museum for the next five years. She died in 1924, leaving a museum “for the education and enjoyment of the public forever.”
THE GROUND FLOOR
The collection is housed inside the original classic Italian style building that Isabella Stewart Gardner had built but to this has been added a new wing to take some of the day-to-day pressures of the Palace building. The new wing was designed to be a modern juxtaposition of the original to hold public and private meeting spaces including a cafe, gift shop, offices and meeting rooms. It is angular and made of glass and steel and connects to the Palace via a glass corridor.
By this time you should have downloaded the Gardner Museum app onto your mobile phone. The app provides a guide to the museum and each of the rooms and galleries. It really helps understand the history of the museum and the artworks on display.
The glass corridor leads you into the main Palace building and into the incredible courtyard, which reaches up the four stories of the building to a transparent ceiling through which the light floods in. This also keeps out the sometimes gnarly Boston weather which allows delicate tropical ferns and plants to survive as well as protect the sculptures that have been placed in the courtyard.
Around the first floor of the courtyard are the cloisters, off of which are some areas and rooms which have art exhibits on display. One of these areas feels a bit like being in a crypt of a cathedral with artefacts from various eras; from the Roman to Gothic periods. Other rooms were more like being in an intimate study, crammed with art and knick-knacks.
THE UPPER FLOORS
As you take to the grand staircases that lead to the upper floors of the Gardner Museum the feel of place changes completely. The rooms become larger, the decorations and furnishings more opulent. It begins to feel like a real palace. Here the works of art feel totally at home. In a traditional art museum, the walls are often white or pale to accentuate the art. At the Gardner the wall coverings are bold and often dark, so the paintings and furniture are somewhat muted and blended in. Some might not like this effect, but for me, it felt more natural.
As you go from room to room the amount of art and furniture on display is overwhelming. I feel you could come back here many times and see something for the first time.
On the second floor, you will come to the ‘Dutch’ room where Isabella assembled a tribute to northern Europe’s greatest portraitists including Rembrandt, Rubens, Dürer, and Holbein. The Dutch Room played a key role in Gardner’s entertaining.
This room was also the scene of tragedy when, in 1990, 13 works were stolen from the Gardner Museum, six of them from the Dutch Room. These works included a Rembrandt self-portrait; one of his finest narrative paintings, A Lady and Gentleman in Black; and his only seascape, Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee; as well as Johannes Vermeer’s The Concert.
On the third floor, there is one continuous room running along the east side of the building, the Long Gallery is an art gallery, an archive, a library, and a chapel all at once. Here you returned to the religious themes of the ground floor. This room aptly leads to the ‘Gothic Room’. The Gothic Room was closed to the public during Isabella Stewart Gardner’s lifetime. With a mixture of devotional and domestic objects, it served as a private refuge for Isabella and a few very close friends. The tone of this room is of an English cathedral, complete with a pulpit. One end of the room is dominated by a free-standing portrait of Isabella, by John Sargeant, dressed as a Madonna.
We loved our visit to the Gardner Museum. It is not your traditional art museum and it did feel more like a home rather than a gallery. It is also compact, so you can easily get around it in a couple of hours. Of course, you could spend much longer here if you truly wanted to appreciate everything that is on display.
Remember to download the app onto your phone it really will enhance your experience of visiting the Gardner.
Planning your visit to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
A limited number of free and metered spots are available near the Gardner Museum. We also offer discounted parking at the next-door Simmons School of Management Garage and are walking distance from the lots at the Museum of Fine Arts.
SIMMONS COLLEGE PARKING
Discounted* parking is available on Levels P1-P3 of the Simmons School of Management (SOM) Garage, at 86 Avenue Louis Pasteur.
The Gardner is easily accessible by both bus and subway, and we encourage you to take advantage of the MBTA, Boston’s public transportation system (known by natives as the “T”). For more information about Boston’s public transportation system, visit the MBTA website.
Take the Green Line E train to the Museum of Fine Arts stop, or the Orange Line train to the Ruggles stop.
The Gardner Museum is accessible by the 8, 19, 39, 47, CT2, and CT3 bus routes. Use the MBTA’s Trip Planner tool to find the best route for you.
|Address:||25 Evans Way, Boston|
Monday | 11 am–5 pm
Adults-$20 | Seniors-$18 | Students-$13
Best time to visit Boston
The best time to visit Boston is from June to October. Mild autumn weather makes touring around on foot a joy. And even though summer brings in swarms of tourists and expensive hotel rates, the sidewalk cafes, baseball games and outdoor concerts make it worth a trip. Winter is chilly, so pack a warm coat and a pair of boots if you decide to see Beantown sprinkled (or immersed) with snow. Another incentive for wintertime: you might catch a great deal on a hotel. If winter is too cold for you but summer and fall’s hotel rates fall outside your budget, try visiting at the start of the spring season.
Other things to do whilst in Boston
1. THE FREEDOM TRAIL
Walk Into History and experience more than 250 years of history on Boston’s iconic Freedom Trail — the 2.5-mile red line leading to 16 nationally significant historic sites, each one an authentic treasure. Preserved and dedicated by the citizens of Boston in 1951, the Freedom Trail is a unique collection of museums, churches, meeting houses, burying grounds, parks, a ship, and historic markers that tell the story of the American Revolution and beyond. Today the Freedom Trail is a world-renowned, signature tourist experience attracting over 4 million people annually to visit Boston’s precious 17th-, 18th-, and 19th-century sites.
2. BOSTON TEA PARTY MUSEUM
3. BOSTON DUCK TOUR
Hop aboard Boston’s Original and World Famous, Boston Duck Tours and enjoy a fully narrated, historic tour of Boston in a WWII style amphibious vehicle that travels on land and water. You’ll be greeted by one of our legendary ConDUCKtors, who’ll be narrating your tour. You’ll cruise by all the places that make Boston the birthplace of freedom and a city of firsts. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, it’s time for a Big Splash as your ConDUCKtor drives the DUCK right into the Charles River for breathtaking views of Boston and Cambridge.
Where to stay in Boston
1. ELIOT SUITE HOTEL (5-STAR)
Built in 1925, the historic Eliot Suite Hotel is located in Boston’s Back Bay neighbourhood. It offers an on-site sashimi bar and elegantly decorated rooms with down comforters and marble bathrooms.
The Eliot is less than five minutes away from Hynes Convention Center. Nearby shopping includes the Prudential Shopping Center and Newberry Street shops. Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, is 1,000 yards away
2. THE VERB HOTEL
3. MOROCCAN BOUTIQUE GUEST HOUSE
Featuring uniquely decorated suites, Moroccan Boutique Guest House is located in Boston.
The property is 2.1 mi from Boston Common, 2.7 mi from Copley Square and 3.6 mi from Fenway Park.
The Monument Restaurant and Tavern is located just steps from the property and serves wood-fired pizzas, steak, seafood; brunch on weekends.