[There are few Boston sites that I would more highly recommend for a fall visit—for anybody, from tourists to lifelong residents, students to seniors, and American Studiers of all varieties—than the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. For this week’s series, I’ve blogged about five topics connected to the Museum and its historical and cultural contexts. This crowd-sourced post is drawn from responses to that series and from other ideas and voices—please add yours!]
In response to Monday’s Isabella Stewart Gardner post, Jeanne Duperreault writes “Haven’t been to Boston for years but passed by the Museum often as I went to library class at Simmons College. Fascinating place. I have a lovely book to recommend for those who like mysteries, Boston, ISG and a bit of whimsy: Murder at the Gardner, by Jane Langton. It is a very charming mystery set in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, starring her usual protagonist, ex-detective and Harvard lecturer Homer Kelly. Very evocative of the Museum and the area, and great fun.”
On the Open Salon version of that post, Kenneth Houck notes that “the Gardner is a must see pilgrimage site for any American artist. Isabelle Gardner was not only rich and powerful but a 'woman of the heart’ and she drew the best of her time to her. Working without references available- one of her more remarkable friends was the Japanese author of THE BOOK OF TEA from which I have drawn so many insights and moments- he actually lived in the Museum. We have more than a few sites here in Philadelphia but Fenway Court and the Gardner have as special a place in my heart.”
Thinking about her own experiences with the Gardner, Susan Stark writes that “The one piece of art I find most striking at the Gardner is the John Singer Sargent portrait of Gardner as a young woman. It stands out for several reasons. Firstly, in the portrait Gardner is looking straight ahead with an open expression on her face as if she were about to say something. She is neither smiling nor frowning (as many portrait sitters are), but instead has the look of someone caught mid-thought, creating an intimacy with those who look on her. It feels almost as though she were photographed a moment before she was ready—not an easy thing to capture in a painting, I would think. The informality of the portrait embodies a bit of what the musuem manages to do overall—a look into someone's life, someone's passions, someone's private history. The second way in which it stands out is how the tapestry behind Gardner creates a sort of glow or halo (or maybe even pillow!) behind her head, and how the ropes of pearls around her waist are reminiscent of a nun's rosary. In a museum filled with images of Christ and the Virgin Mary (and likewise liberally sprinkled with devils, fiends and spear-wielding archangels and such), to have the image of a woman depicted with an almost religious reverence is a bit shocking. I think it shows just in what high regard Sargent held Gardner (and also throws their personal relationship into question). Clearly she was an amazing woman who should be held in high regard and this portrait shows just that. Its inclusion in the museum (which was forbidden by Gardner's husband for a time) is an excellent capstone to Gardner's work and ultimate goals in creating the museum. The portrait, and the ideas it holds about Gardner, embody the celebration of art in the less traditonal ways that I believe she was striving for.”
Responding to Thursday’s Henry Adams post, Linda Patton Hoffman writes that she’s “Re-reading parts of The Education of Henry Adams. I think he captures the American soul. He still makes an impact in 21st century.”
In response to a question of mine about the Barnes Foundation, a Philadelphia Museum that has some strong similarities to the Gardner, Jeff Renye writes that “That's the largest, most-prestigious collection of French Impressionism outside of France. There's been conflict for years over how to carry out the will of Albert C. Barnes, influential as you know as a supporter of the Harlem Renaissance. The museum moved in to Philadelphia just down the Parkway from the Phila. Museum of Art and opened officially in May. Part of the big deal is that the collection is an eclectic mix of French works, PA Dutch iron work, and African art. All of it is arranged in deliberate ways, too, especially walls covered with French masterpieces and the metal work, along with ancient art (Egypt, but also works from China in the Ming dynasty and earlier).” He adds that “a concern was that the collection would not be hung as it was out in Lower Merion (where it was located just behind St. Joe's University in one of the priciest areas for real estate just outside the city and at the start of the Main Line). The new museum in the city does replicate the way that the works are hung and arranged, though I haven't had a chance to go there, yet. I visited the old location five times, with galleries located on a multi-acre arboretum, which, the surroundings, is one thing lost with the move to the city.”
Next series starts Monday,
PS. What do you think? Other responses to the Gardner or the week’s posts? Other inspiring spaces and places you’d highlight?