A Visit to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in BostonThe Amazing Interior of the Gardner Museum Courtyard
Housed in a stunning 15th-century Venetian-style palace with three stories of galleries surrounding a sun and flower-filled courtyard, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum provides an exquisite backdrop for the viewing of this eclectic collection of fine art.
This museum is one of our favorite places to visit - as it feels like you've been invited to visit an old friend. The very fact that her will explicitly states that the nothing ever be moved from where she placed it makes the experience that much more intriguing.
The courtyard is anchored by a beautiful Roman mosaic floor of medusa dating back to 117 - 138 AD. The flora is maintained and rotated throughout the year so each time you visit you'll experience something new.
Just to the right of the courtyard, you'll enter the Spanish Cloister framed by a beautiful wall of colorful tiles that lead up to the famed John Singer Sargent work "El Jaleo".
Views of the courtyard through various arches and architecture. Here, you can see the seasonal favorite "Hanging Nasturtiums" that are a big draw for visitors in April. And every fall, the courtyard welcomes visitors to enjoy courtyard adorned with John Lowell Gardner Chrysanthemums.
photo courtesy of Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
The first floor is centered by this beautiful courtyard, full of horticultural beauty that is meticulously maintained and rotated frequently so it's never the same place twice. It's one of our favorite places to visit as it's truly like entering a different world for a bit.
Many just sit here and enjoy the view, or sketch, or chat quietly. The great glass rooftop provides amazing light that changes throughout the day. Evenings in the courtyard offer their own special ambiance.
I love it here. I try to visit at least a few times a year, especially during April where I can celebrate my birthday among the amazing Hanging Nasturtiums.
Truly a special sight to behold, these were some of Mrs. Gardner's favorite flowers and they are only on display for a few weeks in April. The bright orange blooms surround the courtyard as they cascade down from the Venetian inspired windows.
So many interesting perspectives. You can enjoy them from the first floor looking up, or head upstairs to see them from above.
Nasturtium pots from the second floor as they cascade down to the ground.
As mentioned, the plantings are rotated frequently with the seasons. Below you can see a more summer themed courtyard full of white hydrangea and purple.
More views of the April courtyard across the mosaic floor, from the opposite side.
The plantings change frequently presenting a completely different look and feel almost every time that you visit. The courtyard is a wonderfully contemplative space that people really enjoy visiting all year.
Upstairs, each gallery remains exactly as it was designed by Mrs. Gardner. This, in and of itself, adds to the intrigue of this museum. The pieces are all lovingly curated in her own vision. It makes her presence felt, and like you are truly her guest.
The Yellow Room
We love this room. The Yellow Room full of interesting and amazing art pieces by notable artists like Whistler, Degas and Matisse. However my personal favorite is a somewhat ambiguous portrait of Isabella painted by John Singer Sargent. She's featured as a faceless figure in a fur coat, and the piece It's sort of tucked away in a corner on a white door. (See above)
Here you can imagine she placed the Whistler and the Degas here to capture the natural light. The Whistler piece closest to the window (Nocturne, Blue and Silver) is perfect here, because you must look at it for a bit in order to see the ghostly images emerge.
The Blue Room
The larger Blue Room across the hall features many more paintings, and most memorable to me is the Anders Zorn painting of the streetcar (Omnibus), and the absence of the Degas (Chez Tortoni) to the left of the entrance door.
You can learn more about the famous Gardner Heist here, and about the 15 works of art that were stolen in March 1990 and which have all yet to be recovered.
Marble sculptures abound around the perimeter of the courtyard. There are so many items tucked away here and there, that you will find new treasures to view almost every time you visit.
The Titian Room
The Titian Room featuring The Rape of Europa. 1562, Venice. Titian (Pieve Di Cadore). Mrs. Gardner made high use of natural light, as can be noted by the placement of important pieces near windows.
A recent exhibit, Titian: Women Myth & Power not only presents the famous Titian newly restored to it's original splendor, (at eye level), but reunited with all six of Titian's poesie paintings are together for the first time in 440 years! Truly a spectacular sight to behold.
Isabella was a devout Anglo-Catholic, and used the Chapel on the third floor of the museum for the celebration of Mass. The stunning stained glass window from the Soisson Cathedral in France illuminates the space.
The Gothic room, picture above is home to a rare portrait of Isabella painted by John Singer Sargent. The life-size portrait gazes out from the southwest corner of the room. This room was actually closed to the public during Isabella Stewart Gardner’s lifetime. With a mixture of devotional and domestic objects, it served as a private refuge for Isabella and a few very close friends.
The Tapestry Room
Giant tapestries hang from the walls in this darkened Gallery known as the Tapestry Room. A grand and cavernous space, the Tapestry Room evokes a great hall in a northern European castle.
More dimly lit than other spaces in the Museum and once used as a concert hall, the spotlight now shines on the works around its periphery, including imposing tapestries, furniture, architectural fragments at the doorways and windows, and several large paintings.
These photos highlight a past Exhibit of some of her many antique books that aren't often on display. It was a delight to see these books open, under glass.
Another popular exhibit featured Titian's newly restored 'Rape of Europa' along with 5 of Titian's other mythical works called his poesie. The Exhibit, Titian, Women, Myth and Power runs thru January 2, 2022. View highlights from this incredible eye-level Titian exhibit here.
The Community Lounge
The bright and open lounge is a welcome place for visitors to come sit and chat, or to peruse one of many art books from the foyer. There are also many books to choose from outside the room in the foyer adjacent to the Gift Shop.
When Isabella Stewart Gardner created her museum she wanted it to be “for the education and enjoyment of the public forever.”
It’s important to know that Isabella designed it as an immersive environment. The result is a highly singular collection that includes art, flowers, plants, textiles, furniture, correspondence, religious artifacts and architecture.
The Gardner Museum is just one of many amazing Boston Museums. A visit to each one will bring it's very own adventure - how many have you visited? Museums are also a terrific idea for a Boston rainy day activity. You can find lots of things to do in Boston in our handy guide to fun, family-friendly activities.
If you have a love of art, check out some of our exhibit guides that feature some of the more popular traveling exhibits that have visited Boston over the years, including: Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience, at SoWa Power Station, Titian: Women, Myth & Power at Isabella Gardner Museum, Basquiat: Writing the Future of the Hip Hop Generation at the MFA, Love is Calling at the ICA Boston, and Body Worlds at Boston Museum of Science.
Stacey Sao has been the Managing Director of the family-friendly events and activities website, BostonCentral for over 20 years. She continues to enjoy discovering and exploring new places to visit in the Greater Boston area.
You can find all sorts of fun Boston events for the entire family by subscribing to the BostonCentral Weekly Events Newsletter.