Collective Vision: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

A patron with exquisite taste and a zest for life, Isabella Stewart Gardner traveled the world for over three decades, assembling piece by piece one of the world’s most remarkable art collections. Her interests ranged from Rembrandt, Titian, Sargent, Whistler, and Matisse to architectural antiquities, medieval stained glass windows, tapestries, painted leather “wallpaper” and rare books. In 1903, the “palace” she built as a museum to house her collection was opened to the public. She personally directed the installation of the entire collection It remains on permanent display exactly as she willed it, creating complex conservation challenges. Though she died in 1924, her vision that art should be a transforming experience is still the guiding principle of this Boston-based museum.


“Years ago I decided that the greatest need in our Country was Art. We were a very young country and had very few opportunities of seeing beautiful things, works of art.  So, I determined to make it my life’s work if I could.”
– Isabella Stewart Gardner, on the creation of her Museum, 1917

“All of a sudden you are just plunged into a total assault on your senses,” says museum director Anne Hawley. “So you smell flowers, you hear water dropping into a fountain, you might hear a musician practicing because music is a large part of the museum. And your eyes are just invited to feast on unbelievable works of art.”

Performing Octet In E Flat Major, Opus 20 Felix Mendelssohn 1825

“Isabella Stewart Gardner had so many passions, but certainly music was one of them,” explains Scott Nickrenz Museum Music Director. “We have a massive program here…40 to 60 concerts a year. We’re not just giving a nod or token glance towards Apollo or music. It’s a commitment by this museum to music and the development of young talent.”

During Gardner’s life, she had artists working and living at the museum. The Gothic Room became the studio of her great friend, the artist John Singer Sargent.

John S. Sargent, 1882; Oil On Canvas

“We have John Singer Sargent’s great masterpiece of a gypsy doing a dance called El Jaleo, which means the ruckus,” explains museum director Anne Hawley. “It’s just a dance of ecstasy, just to throw yourself into this and go with the music, the singing, the chanting…everything in that picture vibrates.”, pub-8763558367268451, DIRECT, f08c47fec0942fa0
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