Mia Marlowe's Reviews > Mrs. Jack: A Biography of Isabella Stewart Gardner

Mrs. Jack by Louise Hall Tharp
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Apr 05, 09

Read in April, 2009

Last month, 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 museum was the site of a major heist ten years ago. Someone broke in with a "shopping list" and sliced a Ver Meer and several Rembrandts from their frames. Since the paintings haven't resurfaced, we can only assume they are in the private collection of some cash-rich, spirit-poor meany-head who doesn't work and play well with others. I wonder at the smallness of heart that would steal beauty from the world so they alone can enjoy it. But I suspect owning those pieces gives them little real pleasure because they can't let anyone know they have them. The frames still hang empty in the Gardner Museum to this day.

The painting above is a portrait of Isabella Gardner done by Anders Zorn, a Swedish artist. I think it beautifully captures her generosity of spirit. 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.

I had to learn more about this fascinating woman. She was an original! I highly recommend the book.

http://www.emilybryan.com
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Liane (new)

Liane Spicer What a lovely story. I really enjoyed this review.


message 2: by Valerie (new)

Valerie Thanks for this review, Emily! I spent many hours in her museum, was fascinated by this woman and pondered many questions. What did the art say about her? Why did she choose certain pieces? How does it feel as a whole? Now I can read all about her.


message 3: by Mia (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mia Marlowe Valerie wrote: "Thanks for this review, Emily! I spent many hours in her museum, was fascinated by this woman and pondered many questions. What did the art say about her? Why did she choose certain pieces? How doe..."

Isabella was an absolute corker. I think the thing that defines her best is her total refusal to be ordinary. "Fitting in" was something she'd have abhorred.



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