For as long as I’ve known him, my husband Charlie would occasionally mention two things that made an impression on him as a child. The first, that he would someday like to own a home with a courtyard in the center and the second, that his favorite artist is Rembrandt. I asked him where he developed these two notions and he would explain that his sister took him to see the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum when he was about eleven years old.
This past summer, I had the opportunity to visit the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum to finally understand what had impressed my husband at such an early age.
The museum was planned to be a museum although it was designed as a house.
Isabella had quite a magnificent collection and her private home was not able to contain it. She had the museum constructed to display her treasures. The items are not to be moved or rearranged. They are to remain exactly as she placed them. This was fun for me. I enjoyed seeing how she decorated with her precious pieces. For two brief hours I wandered through the extraordinary rooms and imagined what it would be like to be Mrs. Gardner and own a home with an interior courtyard.
By the middle of the second floor, I began to be overwhelmed. Such an enormous amount of material culture! A fellow visitor and I exclaimed over the depth and breadth of the mind- boggling collection. It was too much for me to take in all in one day. I will need to study and return.
One disconcerting aspect of the museum is that an art heist took place here. In 1990, thirteen works of art were stolen by two thieves dressed as policemen. Two large empty frames hang in the Dutch room as a grim reminder of the deed. I was sad to report to Charlie that the probable inspiration of his admiration for Rembrandt is now gone. But, Rembrandt’s self- portrait is still here, serenely observing all who pass by.
The gift shop had a number of books that piqued my interest. Since I walked to the museum from our hotel I had to choose judiciously. I chose a small companion guide containing colorful pictures and descriptive overview of the museum. Photography is not permitted in the interior portions of the museum so the guide is a nice memento of my visit. The second book I chose, Furnishing a museum, Isabella Stewart Gardner’s Collection of Italian Furniture by Fausto Calderai and Alan Chong. Calderai, a furniture expert and Chong, past curator of the Gardiner Museum compiled a large, colorful, and useful 327 page volume which discusses the lavish furnishings of the museum. This is a book I wish I had when I was a teenager. I know I would have read it cover to cover.
Adult tickets are $15. and children under 18 free admission. Would I bring children here? Obviously, my husband as an eleven year old was favorably affected by his visit. Very small children were here during my visit but they did not seem happy. In my opinion, this is an experience that requires some time to wander and ponder. By the way, the restaurant was excellent. The food delicious and wait staff jovial and welcoming. The restaurant is of glass and the view to the gardens is peaceful and relaxing.