You can nab a world-class education visiting these fine institutions.
Originally Appeared on Condé Nast Traveler
Zoom out. What’s this place all about?
At once intimate and unparalleled in its grandeur, the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum draws on the art collection of its eponymous founder. Within a Venetian-style palazzo, surrounding an elegant courtyard decorated in verdant plants, masterpieces hang next to architectural elements Gardner purchased from Europe. The ambience of the museum itself is a treasure, and the wonders it holds offer a one-of-a-kind experience. If you’re lucky enough to be in Boston during the third week of the month, soak up the museum’s monthly Third Thursdays event, when neighbors come together to sip champagne, listen to lively music in the courtyard, and laugh together over gallery games.
What will we find in the collection?
Gardner’s personal collection reflects her thirst for travel, a bohemian lifestyle, and the fine luxuries of ancient cultures. Stewart Gardner herself delicately arranged the collection of more than 7,500 fine and decorative art objects, 2,700 books and manuscripts, and over 8,000 historic objects from around the world, including sculptures, furniture, textiles, metalworks, and ceramics, that she collected over the course of her lifetime. (She provided an endowment to operate the museum, stipulating in her will that nothing in the galleries should be changed, and no items be acquired or sold from the collection.) During one of many tours abroad, Gardner set a world record for her purchase of Titian’s Rape of Europa, outbidding representatives from Paris' Musée du Louvre and London's National Gallery. In 1990, the largest property theft in the world left the museum without 13 works in its permanent collection, including pieces by Degas, Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Manet. A $10 million reward still stands for information on the stolen works, adding even more intrigue to this beloved museum.
What about temporary exhibits?
Seasonal exhibits often pull from the Gardner’s extensive collection or feature the contemporary work of current or former artists-in-residence. Steve Locke’s 2018 exhibition, “Three Deliberate Grays for Freddie (A Memorial for Freddie Gray),” for example, challenged visitors to look at violence and racism in the United States.
What did you make of the crowd?
The unique legacy of bohemian heiress Isabella Stewart Gardner attracts curious travelers and locals who adore this oasis in the city. It's not the best museum for kids, but it’s a thrill for artists who come here to sketch. And because of the almost spiritual experience of walking through the serene courtyard, this is a visit even museum-averse guests will enjoy.
On the practical tip, how were the facilities?
The historic palazzo and modern wings are all accessible. Be aware, though, that the original galleries (as arranged by Gardner) often feature low lighting and use narrow hallways to connect different parts of the palazzo.
Any guided tours worth trying?
During weekdays, the museum gives guests two types of free days tours that enliven a visit. Take an introductory guided tour for an overview of the museum or deepen your understanding with a collection conversation, both of which add tremendously to your connection to the marvels within these walls. On the weekend, sign up for a spotlight talk or an open studio art event.
They’re not tours, but it’s also worth noting the museum’s music schedule: There are classical concerts practically every weekend, and more contemporary styles once a month on Thursday evenings.
Gift shop: obligatory, inspiring—or skip it?
Gift at the Gardner matches the whims of its namesake in its artsy, refined choices. This bright, modern shop curates the work of small-batch makers from around the world alongside art books and accessories. The best souvenir may be coffee mugs decorated with snappy quotations attributed to Gardner. “Shan’t you and I have fun with my museum?” one says.
Is the café worth a stop, or should we just plan on going elsewhere?
The Gardner’s bistro, Café G, serves elegant dishes in a contemporary space framed by glass walls. It's part of the Renzo Piano-designed addition to the museum, which opened in 2012 and provides interdisciplinary, multipurpose space for contemporary artists, musicians and scholars. The café is an easy spot to savor a salad or light entrée for lunch (the café is only open for dinner on Thursday). Lucky for you, nearby Fenway is a culinary hotspot, so keep your options open for dinner.
Any advice for the time- or attention-challenged?
Although two hours is ideal for a meaningful visit, you can walk through the museum in one hour if you keep a steady pace. The Spanish cloister features must-sees like El Jaleo, by John Singer Sargent, a portrait of Isabella Stewart Gardner by the same artist, and Titian’s Rape of Europa.
incredulous: Dead people don't vote. Much older seniors often don't vote either, but that doesn't mean they should lose their right to vote. And don't we have the right to not vote if we so choose? Since voting is a constitutionally guaranteed right, perhaps they should have same day registration in all 50 states so when people discover they've been scrubbed, they can merely provide identification and register on the spot. They just introduced some kind of electronic database where they can detect duplicate voting right on election day, even though there was no evidence of duplicate voting.