The Fabulous Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

How come it is already one year ago this week, when we stepped into the secret world of wonders that is the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum? That eclectic structure, inspired by Venetian Palazzos but integrating Roman, Byzantine, Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance elements – and more recently a new glass wing by (you guessed it, again) Renzo Piano –  and still managing to look harmonious?

Indeed, Isabella and her husband Jack, loved Venice so much they wanted to bring it back home with them. And so they did! They bought columns, windows, and doorways to adorn every floor, as well as reliefs, balustrades, capitals, and statues.

But it was not just Venice. The Gardners travelled all over the world, from Paris to the Middle East, Egypt to the Far East and across America, collecting on their way paintings, photos, statues and other objects of art and craft. Their collection grew so big, the Gardners had to think about a new home for their treasures. That’s when plans for a new museum were first laid. But Jack’s sudden death in 1898 found Isabella pursuing their common dream all by herself.

And she certainly pursued it. Not only she was present at the site every day, she gave orders, demonstrated exactly how she wanted the building to look like down to the slightest detail. When ceiling beams arrived for the Gothic Room and were too smooth for her liking, she took an ax in hand and hacked away to achieve the desired result.

It took us the best part of the day to walk through The Gardner; it will take us a good full week to revisit it here on The Humble Fabulist. I hope you enjoy this series as we take a look into the wonderful world that Isabella Stewart Gardner built for us.

Let us start with the Courtyard, visible from every gallery in the museum, with its Ca’d’Oro balconies dating from 1845-1855 and Roman sculpture garden where plants change almost every month. For most of the them are grown in the Museum’s temperature-controlled Hingham greenhouses, then trucked here on rotation so that the garden is always in full bloom. Notice the hydrangeas in these pictures?  They are often grown from cuttings taken the previous year and are on view between May & June.  This is ”Sentient Veil”, a sculptural sound piece created in 2017, by Philip Beesley (b. 1956). Small glass ampules containing gold and blue liquids hang in clusters from a digitally fabricated textile, along with LED lighting and miniature acoustic resonators. “Sentient Veil” is silent until visitors enter the gallery; movement in the room triggers a mixture of whispers, mechanical clicks and gentle tones, creating a quiet chorus.

The Spanish Cloister –

Isabella Gardner herself spent hours assembling the nearly 2,000 painted and glazed tiles into the appealing pattern we see today on the walls of the Spanish Cloister. Her friend, the artist Dodge Macknight, bought the tiles for her in Mexico in 1909 from the Church of San Agustìn.

And, finally for today,

JOHN SINGER SARGENT (1856 – 1925)
EL JALEO, 1882
Oil on canvas

During his travels in Spain in 1879, Sargent was mulling over a major work of art in which he could express his love of Gypsy music, dance, and picturesque costumes. On his return to Paris he set to work on a wide horizontal picture whose proportions simulated the shallow stage space of popular musical establishments. He named the painting El Jaleo to suggest the name of a dance, the jaleo de jerez, while counting on the broader meaning jaleo, which means ruckus or hubbub. The painting was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1882 with the more explicit title El Jaleo: Danse des gitanes (Dance of the Gypsies).

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

May 4th, 2017

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