A wealthy, eccentric socialite. A Venetian palace in Boston that looks like it was transported directly from Italy. Countless paintings, tapestries, valuable furniture, priceless books, and ancient statues. An iconic courtyard garden. And the greatest unsolved art heist of all time. Today’s adventure has a little of everything! Despite promising myself that I would remain near home and relax this weekend, on Sunday I found myself once again scanning a map of Boston, looking for a new place to visit. I soon came across a museum I had never visited but that has long been on my list: the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
After a series of personal tragedies, including the death of her only son in 1865 just before his second birthday, Isabella Stewart Gardner fell into a deep depression. Her husband Jack arranged for the couple to travel to Europe to get away from the daily reminders of their personal traumas. During their travels, the couple discovered that they enjoyed collecting art, and for the next forty years would pour their fortune and efforts into creating one of the largest personal art collections in the world. Not content to keep the works solely for herself, after her husband’s death in 1898 Isabella commissioned a museum to display the art to the public. The result is the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the design of which was heavily influenced by a palace in Venice. Opened in 1903, the museum is smaller than its neighbor, the the Museum of Fine Arts, but is more intimate and reflects the unique, singular vision of Isabella (via Wikipedia).
The museum is not solely known for its unique architecture and beautiful works of art, however. In 1990, thieves who were dressed as police officers entered the museum after hours, subdued and tied up the guards, and then stole several works of art, the total worth of which was close to $500 million. While investigators believe the thieves had ties to organized crime families in New England and Philadelphia, no charges have ever been filed and no arrests have been made. Indeed, two months ago the museum increased the bounty on the return of the art to $10 million, but no one has stepped forward (via Wikipedia). Thirteen empty frames hang on the walls of various galleries inside the museum, signifying where a work of art was stolen.
With all of this information swirling in my head, I set off for the museum and a fun afternoon exploring more of my new hometown.
This Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is open Wednesday through Monday, 11:00 am – 5:00 pm (closed on Tuesdays), with extended hours until 9:00 pm on Thursday evening. Adults pay $15 for entry, senior citizens 65 and older are $12, and college students pay $5. However, before you go, I would strongly suggest you research the Offers and Discounts page on the museum’s website. Is your name Isabella? If so, you receive free entrance to the museum for life. Are you celebrating your birthday? If you are, the museum is free for you as well. Are you a Boston Red Sox fan? Well, so was Isabella. In fact, in 1912, when the Red Sox won the championship, she caused quite a stir by wearing a white bandana to a performance by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The bandana read: “Oh, you Red Sox!” As per rules issued by Isabella Stewart Gardner herself, museum attendees wearing Red Sox attire also receive a discount. Do you have an account with Bank of America? If so, show proof, and on the first full weekend of the month, you receive free admission (thanks to my friends Jenny and Jason for that tip!).
The Museum does a wonderful job of preserving the art and treasures of Mrs. Gardner, while also keeping alive her playful sense of wonder. Photography is allowed, children are not frowned upon by museum staff but rather are encouraged to attend (there is even an art play room for the little ones), and every staff member I spoke with was very helpful. The only drawback today was the large number of attendees, which made some of the galleries too crowded to fully appreciate. I will definitely take a day off from work this fall and return, so I can spend more time at this amazing museum. Thanks for coming along on another journey down the open road ahead!
‘Til next time.