AAA Editor Notes
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is at 280 The Fenway, with an entrance on Evans Way. Isabella Stewart Gardner was a philanthropist, art collector and noted high-society eccentric (she once scandalized a Boston Symphony Orchestra audience by wearing a headband proclaiming “Oh, you Red Sox”), and visiting the museum she created is a singular experience.
The original 1902 building was modeled after a 15th-century Venetian-style palazzo and featured an interior courtyard with a glass ceiling, the first of its kind in the country. Today this skylight not only ensures a climate-controlled environment for the art but allows sunlight to flood the courtyard garden, which is landscaped with ferns and tropical plants. Visitors may not walk through the courtyard but can admire it from balconies on the second and third floors.
Paintings, sculptures, furniture, tapestries, rare books and decorative art objects are among the items on display in a series of galleries that feel more like touring a private home than a museum. Such artists as Botticelli, Raphael, Rembrandt and Titian are represented. Among the highlights are Titian's “Europe”—purchased for what was then a world-record price—and a portrait of Gardner by John Singer Sargent on display in the Gothic Room, which was not opened to the public until after her death.
An adjacent Renzo Piano-designed wing, added in 2012, contains a special exhibition gallery with a retractable ceiling; a display greenhouse; and Calderwood Hall, a 300-seat performance space. Concerts, educational workshops and lectures enrich the visit.
Photography and cellphone use are not permitted.
Guided tours are available. Food is available. Time: Allow 2 hours minimum.