Friday, March 13, 2009

Drunk on Art

from Emily Bryan . . . Yesterday, after taking the red-eye back from Seattle where I spoke for Eastside RWA, I went to the Isabella Gardner Museum. A friend of mine is a docent there and she treated a small circle of us to a private tour.

Isabella Stewart Gardner was the wife of a wealthy Boston Brahmin who inherited 1.6 million upon the death of her father in 1891, back when that was an embarrassingly large sum. She and her husband agreed she'd spend the lot acquiring art. So she spent her life and her funds traveling the globe cherry-picking masterpieces.

I was already so sick with envy, I was predisposed not to like Ms. Gardner a bit.

Then I saw what she'd created.

The Gardner Museum is an absolute gem! More than merely a collection of acknowledged masterworks, this is the sum of a life's passion, a peek into a woman's soul. It's a very personal exposee of a unique individual's quest to educate, to tempt, to infuse her culture with an appreciation for beauty. Not only did she acquire art, she encouraged and supported the best artists of her time. Then she put on her curator hat and transformed her home into a museum (She lived on the fourth floor of this incredible building that's wrapped around a four-storey Venetian-style courtyard). By observing what she'd so carefully chosen and so lovingly displayed, I learned about her tastes, her loves, her theology, and her eccentricities.

The painting above is a portrait of her by Anders Zorn, a Swedish artist. She's stretched out, filling the space and pressing against the walls, refusing to be confined by the conventions of her day.

I like Isabella Gardner very much indeed.

4 comments:

Jennifer Ashley/ Allyson James / Ashley Gardner March 13, 2009 at 2:32 PM  

Kewl. I have a weakness for good museums. When RWA was in Dallas one year, I high-tailed it over to Ft. Worth to look at the Kimbell museum. I loved it.

I will keep this one in mind if I'm ever in the northeast. It looks fabulous.

(And I'm just nerdy enough to have purchased a 2-DVD lecture course on the Met. Which was my lunchtime viewing today.)

EmilyBryan March 13, 2009 at 3:24 PM  

The thing that's so cool about this museum is that it's so intensely personal. Isabella not only chose the pieces, she decided how they'd be displayed. She had a great eye and a real feel for composition.

Sadly, this museum was the site of a big unsolved heist ten years ago. Someone broke in with a "shopping list" and made off with a Ver Meer and several Rembrandts. The paintings are well known enough, since they haven't resurfaced, they must be in some cash-rich, spirit-poor meany-head's private collection somewhere.

And because it was stipulated in Isabella's will that nothing in the museum may be changed, the frames hang empty to this day.

Jennifer Ashley/ Allyson James / Ashley Gardner March 14, 2009 at 4:11 PM  

Argh! There are so few Vermeers as it is. I hadn't heard that. Not that it's ok about the Rembrandts.

(Although the writer in me is going... hmmm, how to exploit for plot...) :-)

EmilyBryan March 15, 2009 at 4:22 AM  

Isn't that the best part about being a writer? When imagination fails--research! There's always something fascinating out there that can be manipulated for our use.

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