Quietly nestled behind the Museum of Fine Arts lies one of the bestkept secrets of Boston: the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
a hidden gem behind the mfa written by Maria Oliver / photos by Victoria Reuter
sabella Stewart Gardner was an art collector and patron of the arts in the late 1890‘s and early 1900’s. She was known for her stylish tastes and unconventional eccentricities. The first painting is John Singer Sargent’s “El Jaleo”. Getting up close and personal with “El Jaleo” requires a quick walk past the entrance and onto the courtyard garden. Some of the rooms are named for the painter whose paintings are on display in the room. There are Titian and Veronese Rooms and more descriptive ones like The Early Italian Room and the Dutch Room. In this particular room, almost 20 years ago, the Gardner Museum was hit by a major robbery. When you look around at all the treasures, it is hard to imagine that the best of the best is gone. The thieves stole thirteen works of art, including three by Rembrandt and one by Vermeer. No one has ever been charged, but the theft has literally left a gaping hole in the Dutch Room as museum officials have never
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attempted to fill the empty spaces left behind. It is considered the biggest art theft in history. Gardner’s 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. Gardner stipulated that after her death, the museum must be left exactly as she designed it, with each painting and each object in the collection to remain forever in the same place she had put it.
Huge Gothic windows with ornate details and moldings allow visitors in the galleries to view the courtyard from a variety of angles. Most windows have balconies, but these are off-limits. The museum is three stories high: the higher up you go, the greater the view of the courtyard. Natural light pours into the gallery rooms through the massive windows. Depending on the time of day, light streams in and highlights pieces around the space. What might be surprising about Gardner’s collection is the dominance of religious art, but Gardner was fascinated by Renaissance painting. It is an interesting juxtaposition: the dark paintings and the beautiful natural light. Several of the paintings in the museum are portraits of Isabella Gardner; she sat for some of the great painters of the time, including John Singer Sargent, who painted Mrs. Gardner in White and Portrait of Isabella Stewart Gardner. Other portraits of Gardner on display include Anders Zorn’s Mrs. Gardner in Venice and James McNeill Whistler’s The Little Note in Yellow and Gold. These paintings capture the quintessential vitality of Gardner, the same vitality that led her to throw herself into art and share her love with the world.