Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Willard T. Sears, 1902

National Register of Historic Places

Here is the personal “palace” of Mrs. John Lowell Gardner Jr. It was built to house an extraordinary Boston woman and her unique collection of art and furnishings, much of it acquired with the advice and assistance of Bernard Berenson, the noted art historian. Fabulous stories circulated about “Mrs. Jack” walking down Tremont Street with a lion on a leash, taking up Buddhism, and spending lavish sums on her wardrobe and jewels when neither was an appropriate concern for a proper Boston lady (which she was not). The stories may seem suspect until one considers the tangible evidence that survives. The force of her personality and her extravagance are undeniable in the art she collected. This museum was indeed her personal home, and that is the most outlandish story of all. Everything is still in exactly the place where she left it and can never be relocated, according to the strict terms of her will.

The plain exterior encloses a fantastic Venetian interior. An arcade of colonettes supporting semicircular arches surrounds the garden level of the landscaped courtyard. At the upper level the pink-and-white mottled walls are punctuated with tripartite windows with balustrades or balconies. The four-story courtyard is a delightful space by day, but by night it becomes magical, with candelabras and sconces glowing in the richly decorated rooms overlooking it.

Mrs. Gardner’s private quarters on the fourth floor opened to the public for the first time on the building’s hundredth anniversary.