27 January 2010

Mrs Jack: a new chapter

always-I love to find a new resource for inspiration- from the Corinthian Column- I discovered a new blog called Alberti's Window: An Art History Blog. 

Do go and read the story and the discussion- topic- the expansion of the ISABELLA STEWART GARDNER MUSEUM in Boston. There are many reasons to know the museum and perhaps more not to-The Museum is about as idiosyncratic and fascinating as the lady whose name its bears.

 Vermeer's the Concert

Such a story. the Woman- the Art Collection- the Museum-the Robbery.
Now- another chapter in the Gardner story-the expansion.

 interior courtyard of the Palazzo
the Fenway

 an older Gardner
painted by  friend Sargent

Mrs. Jack Gardner- known as Donna Isabella- the doted on wife of Jack Gardner of Boston Society. Her antics were scandalous, salacious even- for staid Boston as the 19th century was looking to turn. Her very long strand of pearls were as legend as her eccentricities. She was known for her passion as an art collector with unlimited funds- was sought after by the likes of Henry James who was inspired by Isabella and her magnificent pearls for his novel The Wings of the Dove. John Signer Sargent was a good friend. Mrs. Gardner began amassing her art collections in her travels abroad with her husband and her trips to Venice would ultimately inspire her own version of Venice's Palazzo Barbaro - now the Isabella Gardner Museum.

1894 in Venice
painted by Anders Zorn

The Museum feels ancient when entering-it truly draws you in to the era-the stunning collection Gardner collected with the expertise of Bernard Berenson. Botticelli, Titian, Raphael- all reside in the Museum today.
Her museum was her home-and she stipulated that after her death, each painting and each object in the collection was to remain as she placed it. Thieves did not take this into account.

 The 1990 robbery of  Vermeer's The Concert was a shock to the art world-lax security, priceless works of art, the frustrations of an unsolved case still hover over the Dutch Room at the Gardner. Gilt frames hang empty-awaiting the return of Mrs. Gardner's property.

the Gardner's Dutch Room

read the Times story- The Gardner March 2009 here

Again- Mrs. Jack is in the news- The new expansion of the Gardner. The 70,000 square foot space-said somewhere to be the as the young nephew that reveres and idolizes the grand old aunt. We shall see how kind the wiley nephew behaves. He is jangling the nerves and pearls of the Gardner right now-

Read this from the GLOBE here

by Sargent

They are still talking about MRS JACK, DONNA ISABELLA in BOSTON
-I think they will be for some time.
This, I think would thrill the lady.


  1. One of my favorite places. Love her eccentricity and her passion. The new addition not so much. Must be a theme. I detest the new addition of the Nelson-Atkins. It feels like a bunker and mirrors that change does not often come with grace.

  2. I remember going there in the early 1990s seeing a portrait of Bloody Mary (how the elder sister of Elizabeth I is known) in England) and finding no label asked if indeed it was she. That guard refused to answer my question on security grounds.

  3. Thanks for the reminder of that, it seems like ages ago. Did you hear of the recent occurance at MOMA where the art student fell onto a rare Picasso and tore a 6" rip in the canvas?
    Thanks for sharing,

  4. I have faith the the paintings will be recovered...someday. Maybe not in our lifetimes, but someday. They can't hide forever. Was just there in August, for the second time.

  5. My all time favorite museum. KDM

  6. Fascinating lady. Time to break out The Wings of the Dove after a 20 year respite (did I mention I never finished it? Poor Henry.) Thank you for the great post and inspiration!

  7. Dramatic touch to leave those empty frames. I think I'd like to visit Boston. Each portrait is so different and captivating, but I wouldn't have known the last one was by Sargent.

  8. I have to say a bit conflicted here about the add on. I can not help but think it will be long run a wonderful thing for her legacy. I think many small (though here in square footage only) museums could offer so much if there was space and money-it seems a shame for the Gardner to not be able to bloom and grow as it were.

    Alas- I am not drawn to any modern structures-especially exteriorly- now inside I can appreciate them much more. The new addition in Chicago is quite something.

    Le style- I would agree about the Sargent-my reading of him is not vast-but I think in this instance he expressed the unique point of view with the sitter. The friendship and the freedom it gave him perhaps elevated his-shall we say-creative leanings. I think Sargent gave his sitters A Sargent and not always the artist's vision. That said-I adore any Sargent- His el Jaleo at the Garder is stunning.

  9. KDM- another thing we very much agree on. something is there that cannot be altered by this wing.

  10. Many visits to 'Mrs.Jacks' home/ museum for so many years, and yet, I am enraptured each time with the transportation of ones' Soul and Mind to Venezia courtesy of the Gardners...the little memorial to her baby boy, who really was the impetus for this Masterpiece is touching...the food divine in the little Cafe' and always, if your name is Isabella, your given an embroidered hankie as a gift per her wishes. This hankie is now framed in my 4 years old niece, 'Isabella's bedroom.

    I do like the juxtaposition of the Modern with Old for it is NOW, rather than the usual tired interpretation of THEN...look at what Mr. Piano did for the MORGAN LIBRARY in NYC...kudos.

    The new entrance if built will transport all into the Courtyard thru the 'Looking Glass' as she did all those years ago on New Years Eve when her footman slid the mirrored wall panel in the Music Room after a concert filled that night with all of Boston's Society who had gossiped so ill of her for years, for she was a Belle of NYC and not of their ilk. This new passage will be a Glass Tunnel, where the Palazzo will be the main focus thru the windows...I do hope, one day, the Vermeer and others will reappear, I feel lucky to have seen them in situ and feel their BEAUTY will guide them back safely!

  11. Biographies of ISG vary in terms of doing justice to their subject, who was magnificent. In one of them - and which one I can't remember now - I ran across this wonderful description of her by Ellery Sedgwick:

    "There was no sacrifice she would not make for Beauty. She would pinch herself to the extremity of economy. She would go without her carriage; she would live...almost on a diet of herbs, but the magical canvas, the inspired bust, the glass of Chartres, the ruby that men must have died for, and the three great ropes of pearls which hung to her waist, these things she enjoyed, she adored, and out of the fullness of her joy would thank God for them..."

    I find her fascinating. The addition - well, I need to think some more.

  12. There are a number of good art blogs out there, and it is always a joy to come across them, and to pass them on.

  13. another great link - the art history blog - thanks - the gardner is one of my favorites - regina joi says it perfectly - took my daughter isabel to visit but no hankie - she was missing the last sylabble -not sure about the addition - will have to read more - but there is nothing wrong with progress and forward movement - reason to expand must be the vast collection - good for the public to get a peak at all the treasures

  14. Mrs. Jack is fantastic. I love her style, and her eccentricities. Actually, way back when, I did my very first post on her. Also, that photo with the empty picture frame is haunting. I'll check out the history blog asap. Lauren

  15. Thank you so much for creating the link to my blog. I enjoyed reading your tribute to Mrs. Jack and her museum. Her life and museum have fascinated me for a long time - one day I hope to publish an article on her museum hanging and "aesthetic vision."

    I look forward to following your blog.


  16. Fascinating lady and story ! I hope we will find it , it is pretty to hide such a piece of art for a long time

  17. An odd thing: I was in the Gardiner with a friend the afternoon before the paintings were stolen. As we were leaving, I said to wait a minute, I'd forgotten to look at the Vermeer, be right back. Went up and gazed for a few minutes. The next day, my friend called and said "you're not going to believe this, but remember how you went to take a look at the Vermeer? Well, it's been stolen."

    I'm very irritated about the Gardiner renovation. Some people just CANNOT STAND IT if they don't change something, even if it isn't broken.

    And oh, those nasturtiums on the balcony. One of my favorite Winter sights for many years.

  18. I look at these and I think you and I would make brilliant friends for we have something of a shared sensibility where art is concern.
    Warm regards,

  19. Yes, you can bet that our teeth are jangling here in Boston! As a longtime member of the Gardner Museum it is a little nerve wracking to know that Renzo Piano will want to make his mark on this fair lady. When I celebrated my b-day there last July, work had already started. We're hoping it's being done w/a delicate touch and the glass box addition will complement the palazzo and not overwhelm it. One thing we haven't been told which all Bostonians have always wanted to know - will the new office space in the addition free up Mrs. G.'s bedrooms on the normally blocked off 4th fl.? We'd all love to see the top floor restored. The museum is absolutely sublime and should be on everyone's list when they come to N.E. The courtyard can transport you even at the bleakest of times. We're looking forward to the annual Valentine's evening as the snow is falling here.

  20. That was absolutely exciting and wonderfully done congratulations.And you chose two great picts of the atrium although I don't believe they call it that .. The Garden??I always love the time they do the Nasturtiums descending lovely!!dorothy

  21. i;ll be in boston for the first time ever in mid february and i am so looking forward to seeing this museum

  22. Michele, Please keep me posted on any bits of interest happening concerning the Gardner. I do love the atmosphere.

    Lynn- Do go- It is one of the most memorable small museums Of this sort I have visited.Mrs. Jack dwells there.

    Regina Joi-I had no idea about that, how lovely and I love that name.Marnie-it seems Mrs G. meant what she said about everything! I would give that a pass-I do wonder what she is thinking about that new bldg.

    M- this is a wonderful topic to continue as the renovation progresses. I am so glad the columnist put me onto you.

    thanks to everyone for the comments, I have added the link ISG Building Project,direct link to the new thing.

  23. Just came upon your post while working on a post on my husband's family island whose most famous resident was his great great aunt Isabella Stewart Gardner. Her museum is a jewel and I have spent many afternoons in its courtyard, or working with the gardener in the greenhouses....such fond memories
    Francine Gardner

  24. Francine, I am so glad you stop by- I have started following your blog and thank you for doing the same. I visited the Gardner twice. Both times I felt it was imbued with the spirit of the woman who created it. A totally unique experience to almost any museum I have ever visited. How fortunate you are to have that as a part of your family history. I can not wait to read about this island. best, Gaye



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