152 Beacon St, Boston, MA 02116
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 25 Evans Way, Boston, MA 02115, Stati Uniti
Mount Auburn Cemetery, 580 Mt Auburn St, Cambridge, MA 02138, Stati Uniti
Isabella Stewart Gardner (April 14, 1840 – July 17, 1924) was a leading American art collector, philanthropist, and patron of the arts. She founded the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.
Gardner possessed an energetic intellectual curiosity and a love of travel. She was a friend of noted artists and writers of the day, including John Singer Sargent, James McNeill Whistler, Dennis Miller Bunker, Anders Zorn, Henry James, Okakura Kakuzo and Francis Marion Crawford.
Gardner created much fodder for the gossip columns of the day with her reputation for stylish tastes and unconventional behavior. The Boston society pages called her by many names, including "Belle," "Donna Isabella," "Isabella of Boston," and "Mrs. Jack". Her surprising appearance at a 1912 concert (at what was then a very formal Boston Symphony Orchestra) wearing a white headband emblazoned with "Oh, you Red Sox" was reported at the time to have "almost caused a panic", and remains still in Boston one of the most talked about of her eccentricities.
Nearly 70 works of art in her collection were acquired with the help of dealer Bernard Berenson. Among the collectors with whom she competed was Edward Perry Warren, who supplied a number of works to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The Gardner collection includes work by some of Europe's most important artists, such as Botticelli's Madonna and Child with an Angel, Titian's Europa, and Raphael's The Colonna Altarpiece, and Diego Velázquez. She purchased some of her collection on her own, but often asked for male colleagues, such as her business partner, to purchase on her behalf as it was uncommon for women to participate in art collecting.
Isabella Stewart was born in New York City on April 14, 1840, the daughter of wealthy linen-merchant David Stewart and Adelia Stewart (née Smith). She grew up in Manhattan. From age five to fifteen she attended a nearby academy for girls where she studied art, music, and dance, as well as French and Italian. Attendance at Grace Church exposed her to religious art, music and ritual. At age 16, she and her family moved to Paris where she was enrolled in a school for American girls; her classmates included members of the wealthy Gardner family of Boston. In 1857 she was taken to Italy and in Milan saw Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli's collection of Renaissance art arranged in rooms designed to recall historical eras. She said at the time that if she were ever to inherit some money, she would have a similar house for people to visit and enjoy. She returned to New York in 1858. Shortly after returning, her former classmate Julia Gardner invited her to Boston, where she met Julia's brother John Lowell "Jack" Gardner. Three years her senior, he was the son of John L. Gardner and Catharine E. Peabody, and one of Boston's most eligible bachelors. They married in Grace Church on April 10, 1860, and then lived in a house that Isabella's father gave them, at 152 Beacon Street in Boston. They resided there for the rest of Jack's life. Jack and Isabella had one son, born on June 18, 1863; he died from pneumonia on March 15, 1865. A year later Isabella suffered a miscarriage and was told she could not bear any more children. Her close friend and sister-in-law died about the same time. Gardner became extremely depressed and withdrew from society. On the advice of doctors, she and Jack traveled to Europe in 1867. Isabella was so ill that she had to be taken aboard the ship on a stretcher. The couple spent almost a year traveling, visiting Scandinavia and Russia but spending most of their time in Paris. The trip had the desired effect on Isabella's health and became a turning point in her life. It was on this trip that she began her lifelong habit of keeping scrapbooks of her travels. Upon her return, she began to establish her reputation as a fashionable, high-spirited socialite.
by John Singer Sargent
In 1875 John Lowell "Jack" Gardner's brother, Joseph P. Gardner, committed suicide, leaving three young sons, Joseph Peabody, William Amory and Augustus Peabody. Jack and Isabella Stewart Gardner adopted and raised the boys. In 1886, Joseph Peabody Gardner, Jr., committed suicide like his father. Douglass Shand-Tucci believes he killed himself because of his unrequited love for another man. Augustus Peabody Gardner became a military officer, a U.S. congressman and son-in-law of Henry Cabot Lodge. William Amory Gardner was probably the lover of Ned Warren, the benefactor of the Museum of Fine Arts. And Shand-Tucci recounts this anecdote about Amory, when he was a don at the then-new Groton School. A young boy brought a minister to William Amory Gardner’s room for a visit after chapel. The visitors having arrived at what turned out to be Gardner’s bedroom, it was at once clear that not only was W.A.G. stark naked before the fireplace (except for a pair of voluptuous bedroom slippers) but also so was the young man reclining on the sofa…
Charles Eliot Norton, one of the foremost scholars of archeology in the United States, had four protégés in the 1880s. Three were gay: George Santayana, Charles Loeser, who after a lifetime in Florence bequeathed 8 paintings by Cezanne to the White House and Logan Pearsall Smith. The fourth, Bernard Berenson, was straight but was very accomodating to his gay friends. All four were frequent visitors to the Gardners. Also at Harvard was newphew Joe Gardner Jr, who lived across the hall from Ned Warren and was friends with the four protégés. Joe was in love with Smith and after graduating, he bought a retreat in Hamilton, Massachusetts purchased as a place he could spend time with Smith. For a while the relationship was happy and Smith went up to Hamilton quite frequently, often bringing his sister, Mary Smith (who eventually married Berenson, her second husband, in 1900). Smith eventually lost interest in Joe. The lovesick young man, who frequently suffered from depression, committed suicide on October 10, 1886. Isabella and Jack were brokenhearted while Smith departed for Oxford and a career as a essayist and social critic in England.
Isabella Stewart Gardner had so many LGBTQ friends that is difficult to keep track of them all. They included Clayton Johns, a composer who taught at the New England Conservatory; William Woodworth, a Harvard professor noted for his Sunday afternoon all-male socials at his house at 149 Brattle St.; Charles Flandrau, the author of another male-male romantic book, Harvard Episodes, and most famously, Henry James and John Singer Sargent.
Theodore Dwight was a frequent guest of Isabella Stewart Gardner. A regular participant in the revels at Tuckernuck, he was in a stormy lifelong relationship with Charles Adams who brought him to Boston to assist with the writing of his history of the United States, and to be librarian of the Adams family papers. During the period of 1892-94 he was the chief librarian of the Boston Public Library, overseeing the construction of its wonderful McKim Building. Dwight was also an avid collector of male pornography and enjoyed taking naked pictures of young Boston men. Some were Irish, but he had a preference for Italinas and regularly employed his models as live-in valets. Dwight lived at 10 Charles St. in a townhouse that featured the framed portraits of his favorites. He shared the space with Russell Sullivan, a popular playwright at the time, his most well-known production was a stage adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1887. At one point, Dwight was despondent over the end of a relationship and sent Gardner an undated postcard that read, "This little scrap is to tell you that the period has come to that little romance in which I was so foolish as to indulge. You were right in your prediction. I seem to come out of it somewhat battered perhaps, & somewhat benumbed but quite patient & resigned."
Isabella Stewart Gardner liked to connect men whom she thought would make a good couple. She introduced Dennis Miller Bunker to John Singer Sargent in 1887, and the two had a very intimate relationship with Sargent reportedly including an image of Bunker in his Frieze of the Prophets in the Boston Public Library as well as producing a picture of Bunker in a bucolic country setting in 1888. Gardner was so proud of the couple that she reportedly kept their pictures side by side in her mansion and one of Bunker's paintings hangs in her museum. As they painted together in the French countryside, Bunker stayed with Sargent. He married in October 1890, but tragically died of meningitis only a few months later in December.
Sometime, when John Singer Sargent met a man he was interested in, he would bring him over to Isabella Stewart Gardner for a visit. One night, for example, Charles Loeffler was the soloist in a performance where he captured the attention of Sargent. Loeffler recalled, "He came into the Artists room that evening and with that irresistible charm of his said a few words which made one rise in one's seld esteem and then arranged for our meeting a few days later at a dinner in a murual friends house (the Gardner's)." This was the beginning of another intimate relationship that resulted in Sargent's portrait of Loeffler. At the same time, Sargent's relationship with Dennis Miller Bunker was heating up and soon Loeffler and Bunker were spending time together, influencing each other's work.
Isabella Stewart Gardner introduced Gaillard Lapsley to Henry James. Lapsley, a close friend of George Santayana at Harvard and perhaps a one-time love interest of Arthur Little, went on to a distinguished career as an Oxford don. Through these men, Lapsley met Edith Wharton and the two became lifelong close friends.
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, including works by Botticelli, Vermeer, and Rembrandt.
After Jack's sudden death in 1898, Isabella realized their shared dream of building a museum for their treasures. She purchased land for the museum in the marshy Fenway area of Boston, and hired architect Willard T. Sears to build a museum modeled on the Renaissance palaces of Venice. Gardner was deeply involved in every aspect of the design, though, leading Sears to quip that he was merely the structural engineer making Gardner's design possible.
The building completely surrounds a glass-covered garden courtyard, the first of its kind in America. Gardner intended the second and third floors to be galleries. A large music room originally spanned the first and second floors on one side of the building, but Gardner later split the room to make space to display a large John Singer Sargent painting called El Jaleo on the first floor and tapestries on the second floor.
After construction of the museum was completed, Gardner spent a year carefully installing her collection according to her personal aesthetic. The eclectic gallery installations, paintings, sculpture, textiles, and furniture from different periods and cultures combine to create a rich, complex and unique narrative. In the Titian Room, Titian's masterpiece The Rape of Europa (1561–1562) hangs above a piece of pale green silk, which had been cut from one of Isabella Stewart Gardner's gowns designed by Charles Frederick Worth. Throughout the collection, similar stories, intimate portrayals, and discoveries abound.
The museum privately opened on January 1, 1903 with a grand opening celebration featuring a performance by members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and a menu that included champagne and doughnuts. It opened to the public months later with a variety of paintings, drawings, furniture and other objects dating from ancient Egypt to Matisse. The museum is still arranged with a variety of textiles, furniture, and paintings floor to ceiling. Gardner lived on the fourth floor when in residence at the museum. After her death, the fourth floor served for many years as residence for the museum's director; more recently it has been converted for use as museum offices.
In 1903 Isabella Stewart Gardner was introduced to Abram Piatt Andrew, Jr, by Cecilia Beaux, one of the most popular American painters of the era. Beaux was a native of Philadelphia, where she studied art in addition to taking classes in Paris. Beaux had been the first of a group of lesbians and gay men to move to Eastern Point in Gloucester. Her next door neighbor was Joanna Stewart Davidge, the head of a New York School for girls. The next house down belonged to Andrew. Gardner and Andrew became instant friends and she started spending time in Gloucester. Andrew had been recently appointed a Harvard professor, one of the youngest of his time, and had just moved into his Gloucester mansion, Red Roof, a house "honeycombed with secret rooms, hidden passages, bedchamber peepholes and unexpected mirrors." Gardner had invited John Singer Sargent to paint at Fenway Court and Sargent was presnet for Andrew's first visit. Though the two became friends and Sargent would visit Red Roof, Andrew was not impressed by Sargent's physical appearance. "He is very business-like, unaesthetic-looking-person, very large and burly, and with a florid face." Andrew had met Beaux because he was a friend of her nephew, who had also been included in the luncheon at Fenway Court that ended up lasting for hours, an extravagance that Gardner rarely granted. Soon Andrew, Sleeper, and Gardner were tightly orbiting each other. In January 1908, for example, when Gardner was looking for Andrew, she would call Sleeper. Later, when Andrew was in Europe during WWI and he hadn't heard from Sleeper for several weeks, he sent word to Gardner to see if anything was wrong. The three sat with each other at the Majestic Theatre, the entertainment venue of choice for Boston's elite, and Gardner was a frequent visitor to Red Roof.
In 1919, Isabella Stewart Gardner suffered the first of a series of strokes and died five years later, on July 17, 1924, at the age of 84. She is buried in the Gardner family tomb at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, between her husband and her son.
Her will created an endowment of $1 million and outlined stipulations for the support of the museum, including that the permanent collection not be significantly altered. In keeping with her philanthropic nature, her will also left sizable bequests to the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Industrial School for Crippled and Deformed Children, Animal Rescue League of Boston, and Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. A devout Anglo-Catholic, she requested in her will that the Cowley Fathers celebrate an annual Memorial Requiem Mass for the repose of her soul in the museum chapel. This duty is now performed each year on her birthday and alternates between the Society of St. John the Evangelist and the Church of the Advent.
The site of her former home (demolished in 1904) is a stop on the Boston Women's Heritage Trail.
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