Boston Sights

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

  • 280 The Fenway Map It
  • The Fenway
  • Fodor's Choice

Published 07/13/2016

Fodor's Review

A spirited society woman, Isabella Stewart came in 1860 from New York to marry John Lowell Gardner, one of Boston's leading citizens. "Mrs. Jack" promptly set about becoming the most un-Bostonian of the Proper Bostonians. She built a Venetian palazzo to hold her collected arts in one of Boston's newest neighborhoods. Her will stipulated that the building remain exactly as she left it—paintings, furniture, and the smallest object in a hall cabinet—and that is as it has remained.

Highlights

Gardner's palazzo includes such masterpieces as Titian's Europa, Giotto's Presentation of Christ in the Temple, Piero della Francesca's Hercules, and John Singer Sargent's El Jaleo. Spanish leather panels, Renaissance hooded fireplaces, and Gothic tapestries accent salons; eight balconies adorn the majestic Venetian courtyard. There's a Raphael Room, Spanish Cloister, Gothic Room, Chinese Loggia, and a magnificent Tapestry Room for concerts, where

Gardner entertained Henry James and Edith Wharton.

On March 18, 1990, the Gardner was the target of a sensational art heist. Thieves disguised as police officers stole 12 works, including Vermeer's The Concert. None of the art has been recovered, despite a $5 million reward. Because Mrs. Gardner's will prohibited substituting other works for any stolen art, empty expanses of wall identify spots where the paintings once hung.

An addition to the museum opened in 2012. The Renzo Piano–designed building houses a music hall, exhibit space, and conservation labs, where Gardner's works can be repaired and preserved.

Tips

A quirk of the museum's admission policy waives entrance fees to anyone named Isabella and on your birthday.

If you've visited the MFA in the two days prior to your trip here, there's a $2 admission-fee discount.

Allot two hours to tour the museum properly, and note that the collections generally appeal to a "grown-up" audience, so there isn't much for young children here.

If you're looking for a light lunch after your tour, visit Cafe G near the gift shop.

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Sight Information

Address:

280 The Fenway, Boston, Massachusetts, 02115, USA

Map It

Phone:

617-566–1401; 617-566–1088-café

Sight Details:

  • $15
  • Museum Wed. and Fri.–Mon. 11–5, Thurs. 11–9; café Tues.–Fri. 11:30–4, weekends 11–4

Published 07/13/2016

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Fodorite Reviews

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Aug 14, 2017

Stunning Display Space for Equally Impressive Collection

My spouse and I visited the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (ISGM) on a Saturday morning in late May 2017. The museum is open Wednesdays through Mondays (closed on Tuesdays) from 11:00 am until 5:00 pm (with extended hours until 9:00 pm on Thursdays). Admission costs $15 per adult; if you visit the neighboring Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), you can save $2 on a combined admission. Entry is free to anyone named Isabella or on your birthday, with discounts

for anyone wearing Red Sox gear (Gardner was an avid fan), teachers, military personnel, students, and seniors. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum comprises two connected buildings in the city’s Fenway-Kenmore neighborhood: the original space, and a new wing designed by renowned architect Renzo Piano. The modern wing features a gift shop (which sells interesting souvenirs and gift items but not bottled water), a dining option (called Café G, which includes al fresco space), restrooms, coatroom (to check oversize bags, backpacks, and coats), and spaces for lounging, learning, and performing. The original space that opened in the early 1900s is stunning and memorable because it occupies a building modeled on the 15th-century Venetian-style Palazzo Barbaro. (Venice was one of Gardner’s favorite cities.) Although the museum resembles a residence, it was never Gardner’s home, except for a short time while she placed the contents. Its three stories of gallery space contain Gardner’s impressive collection of over 2500 pieces of Italian art, including paintings, sculptures, tapestries, furniture, photographs, books, decorative objects (such as silver and ceramics), and architectural elements (like doors and mantle pieces). The galleries surround a magnificent plant-filled courtyard/atrium surrounded by a Spanish-style cloister and Chinese loggia (which leads to an outdoor garden). Room names include Gothic, Raphael, Titian, and Tapestry that hold works such as John Singer Sargent's “El Jaleo” and Titian's “Europa”. As Isabella Stewart Gardner specified in her will (she lived from 1840 until 1924), the galleries have remained as she arranged them. One unique feature of this museum is that the objects and paintings displayed do not contain the typical plaques indicating the name of the work and the artist. Gardner did not want guests to be distracted by the plaques; if something interests you, you can either ask a guide, or you can consult a printed laminated room/wall guide to learn more. Another unusual feature are the 13 empty spaces that once contained artwork stolen from the museum in 1990. Two thieves disguised as Boston police officers entered the museum under the pretense of arresting one of the two on-duty security guards. Stolen pieces include works by Rembrandt, Degas, Manet, and Vermeer. Because Mrs. Gardner's will prohibited movement of the art that she hung, empty wall spaces identify the spots where the paintings were once displayed. A long-standing reward of $5 million for information leading to the robbery has been doubled until the end of the year. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is one of our favorite museums because of the setting and the contents.

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