Almost 100 years after her demise, on July 17, 1924, the celebrity of Isabella Stewart Gardner endures, her identify immortalized because of her eponymous Boston museum. The establishment, after all, is house to many masterpieces—and is finest recognized for these which can be lacking, stolen throughout a daring 1990 heist probably orchestrated by the Italian mafia.
However for all of the headlines generated by the destiny of Rembrandt van Rijn’s solely seascape, Johannes Vermeer’s The Live performance, and the opposite lacking works—to not point out the $10 million reward for his or her return—you is perhaps shocked to understand you recognize little or no concerning the lady herself.
Fortunately, the museum has simply launched Isabella Stewart Gardner: A Life, a brand new biography about Gardner, written by its curator, Nathaniel Silver, and assistant curator, Diana Seave Greenwald.
Gardner was in some methods fairly a personal individual—little of her personal writing survives, largely as a result of she requested associates to burn her correspondence, making it onerous to know her views on slavery, girls’s suffrage, and different urgent problems with her day.
However as a larger-than-life public determine who helmed a significant building undertaking to open one of many first personal museums within the U.S., Gardner left behind sufficient information to assist her biographers piece collectively a captivating life story of a lady who defied conference to create an everlasting legacy.
Listed here are six stuff you won’t know concerning the pioneering collector and museum founder.
Gardner was a tabloid darling
One thing of a Kim Kardashian of her day—in that she was wealthy, fascinating, and endlessly fascinating to the press—Gardner saved a whole bunch of newspaper clippings recounting her exploits.
These weren’t all the time correct. A 1899 New York Journal piece on “The Newest Whim of America’s Most Fascinating Widow,” about her plans for the museum, featured a photograph of a distinct, unknown lady. However they could possibly be pleasant. 4 papers reported on the particular therapy she obtained on the Boston Zoo, the place she was allowed to stroll animals like Rex the lion on a leash—dressed to the nines the entire whereas, naturally.
This consideration from the press minimize each methods, elevating Gardner’s stature but additionally characterizing her as frivolous and eccentric, moderately than recognizing her vital cultural contributions.
Gardner rigorously cultivated her private picture, and scandalized society along with her 1888 portrait by John Singer Sargent. The portray accentuates her hourglass determine in a hip-hugging black gown with a plunging neckline that was fairly revealing for the day. On the request of her husband, John Lowell “Jack” Gardner Jr., she hung the controversial work in a gallery that remained personal throughout her lifetime.
She needed to overcome private tragedy
Gardner handled demise all through her life, beginning when she was 14, with the demise of her 12-year-old sister. Her two youthful brothers additionally died younger, of their mid-20s. And simply 5 months after her 1860 marriage to Jack, the couple buried a still-born toddler. Their solely dwelling youngster, named after his father, died simply shy of his second birthday. Then, on the identical time her sister-in-law and shut good friend Harriet Sears Amory Gardner died a number of months later, Gardner miscarried once more.
Constructing a significant artwork assortment along with her husband helped Gardner get better from a deep despair. And although they by no means had one other youngster of their very own, the couple adopted their three orphaned nephews after Harriet’s husband, Joseph Peabody Gardner, died in 1875. Sadly, the oldest boy, Joseph Peabody Gardner Jr. additionally died younger, at simply 25.
And tragedy struck once more because the couple started preparations to open a personal museum showcasing their holdings. Jack died in 1898, at 61 years previous. (Gardner, simply three years his junior, would stay till age 84.) In her grief, Gardner threw herself into the museum, making a memorial to Jack, Jackie, and Joseph Jr. within the galleries. To this present day, a small case shows their images alongside her personal, in tribute to her misplaced household.
She was a world traveler
Within the aftermath of Gardner’s second miscarriage, to assist carry her despair, a physician steered Jack take her on a visit to Europe. The following tour of Scandinavia, Russia, and Central Europe proved a turning level of their lives, marking the start of their artwork assortment.
Educated in Paris as a teen, Gardner was fluent in French and later discovered Italian and Spanish. She ultimately made 13 worldwide voyages to 38 nations, selecting up every thing from Chinese language antiquities to Romanesque sculpture and Flemish tapestries to Dutch Golden Age masterpieces, Italian Renaissance artwork, and Previous Grasp drawings alongside the best way.
Gardner memorably purchased The Live performance at a Paris public sale, arranging a secret sign with a seller who bid on her behalf, instructing him to not cease till she lowered her handkerchief. The 2 outbid Paris’s Louvre and London’s Nationwide Gallery to take house the trophy.
Along with making main acquisitions for her artwork assortment throughout her travels, Gardner additionally took cautious observe of various architectural types, which she blended to pleasant impact in designing her museum.
The constructing was clearly influenced by Venetian palazzos just like the one she rented within the Italian metropolis, with a courtyard surrounded on three sides by coated walkways, impressed by medieval cloisters.
Gardner even included historic architectural components shipped from abroad into the development—a groundbreaking first for a U.S. museum.
She claimed to be associated to Mary Queens of Scots
To this present day, the museum has a case of objects supposedly linked to the Scottish monarch, a familial devotion for Gardner as a Stewart. Too dangerous the queen’s household spelled it Stuart, and genealogists haven’t been capable of finding any hyperlink between Gardner and a royal lineage.
Gardner was proper that she was of Scottish origins, by means of her father’s father, dry items service provider James Stewart, who immigrated to New York Metropolis. His son, David Stewart, went on to co-own an organization that imported cotton and linen textiles from Scotland and Eire—a enterprise that probably benefitted from the labor of enslaved individuals.
Later, Stewart moved into the worthwhile discipline of coal and iron mining, leaving Gardner $2.75 million (the equal of $78 million at this time) upon his demise in 1891. Mixed with Jack’s household fortune, that cash turned the muse on which Gardner’s museum was constructed.
She bumped into hassle with the IRS
In a reminder that the extra issues change, the extra they keep the identical, Gardner ran afoul of tax regulation whereas importing helpful artwork from Europe—a significant concern of collectors to this present day. (There’s a motive leaks just like the Paradise, Pandora, and Panama Papers all the time reveal an internet of shell firms and different shady monetary transactions associated to main artistic endeavors.)
In Gardner’s case, she hadn’t paid the U.S.’s 20 p.c tariff, believing she was exempt as a result of the museum was a charitable group open to the general public.
However the Fenway Courtroom, because it was referred to as throughout her lifetime, solely opened for a few weeks at a time, as soon as within the spring, and once more round Thanksgiving. In 1904, the Treasury Division dominated that she owed the IRS again taxes, and levied a $200,000 effective. (The difficulty of whether or not personal museums with restricted public entry deserve tax breaks stays contentious over a century later.)
Gardner’s artwork advisor was famed artwork historian Bernard Berenson
Gardner probably met Bernard Berenson at Harvard College, the place she was a member of the Dante Society. She helped pay for Berenson’s research in Europe after he was rejected from a journey fellowship.
The journey was instrumental in remodeling the younger artwork historian into a number one scholar of Italian Renaissance artwork. In flip, it was Berenson that inspired Gardner to change into one of many first U.S. collectors to put money into works from the interval.
Within the years earlier than she started work on her museum, Gardner purchased 26 artworks by way of Berenson. Amongst them have been the nation’s first work by such main artists as Raphael, Titian, Sandro Botticelli, and Fra Angelico—Titian’s Rape of Europa chief among the many highlights.
The connection was not with out its pace bumps. In what would possibly at this time be thought-about a battle of curiosity for a scholar, Berenson made fairly a revenue on these offers, typically practically doubling a piece’s preliminary value when providing it to Gardner. (A observe that may flip litigious within the twenty first century.)
She as soon as wrote to him noting that others had warned her that “you’ve gotten been dishonest in your cash dealings.” On the entire, nevertheless, it was a fruitful relationship for each events, permitting Gardner to construct an unbelievable assortment by the requirements of any period.
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