Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
History, Collection Highlights, Renaissance Paintings.

Isabella Stewart Gardner.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

This public arts institution at Fenway Court in the Fenway-Kenmore neighbourhood of Boston, Massachusetts, holds the art collection assembled by the Boston Society couple Isabella Stewart Gardner and her husband Jack, during the period (c.1865-1900). Encompassing decorative art as well as fine art, it is acknowledged by experts to be the finest compact-sized collection in the world. It is particularly rich in Renaissance art, as well as Dutch Realism paintings of the 17th century, and includes masterpieces by Botticelli (1445-1510), Raphael (1483-1520), Titian (1487-1576), Velazquez (1599-1660), Rembrandt (1606-69), Vermeer (1632-75), Whistler (1834-1903) and Matisse (1869-1954). It remains one of the best art museums in America.

Museum of Fine Arts Boston
Smithsonian American Art Museum
National Gallery of Art Washington DC
Phillips Collection
Barnes Foundation
Carnegie Museum of Art
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Albright-Knox Art Gallery
Frick Collection
Guggenheim, New York
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
Whitney Museum of American Art
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
J Paul Getty Museum Los Angeles

Art Institute of Chicago
Detroit Institute of Arts
Indianapolis Museum of Art
Museum of Fine Arts Houston

For the best art and design
colleges in Boston and
and elsewhere in Massachusetts,
see: Massachusetts Art Schools.
For universities and institutes
of fine arts across America, see:
Best Art Schools.

History of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Art Museum and Collection

The Gardners were keen travellers, particularly after the tragic death of their only son John Lowell in 1863. The earliest items of visual art in the collection were acquired during their trips to Europe, as well as to Egypt, Turkey, and the Far East. However, from 1891, their art-collecting turned serious after they inherited a large sum from Isabella's father. With the help of the Renaissance expert Bernard Berenson (1865-1959), who assisted in the purchase of over 70 works, the Gardners assembled a world class collection, including works by some of Europe's most important artists.

For a list of the finest works of
painting and sculpture, by the
world's most famous artists, see:
Greatest Paintings Ever
Oils, watercolours, mixed media
from 1300-present.
Greatest Sculptures Ever
Works in stone, bronze, wood
from 33,000 BCE-present.

Located close to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Fenway Court, the palatial four-storey building which houses the collection, was designed by Isabella and her architect Willard T. Sears, as both a home and a museum, and was based on the Venetian Palazzo Barbaro. Built after the death of Jack Gardner, Isabella's husband, in 1898, it was constructed using architectural fragments from a number of European Gothic and Renaissance structures. Isabella herself lived on the top floor of the palace. She opened the museum to the public for two days each year.

For a list of the world's greatest
libraries and museum collections
of Muslim culture, see:
Museums of Islamic Art.

For news of any major art shows
being held at the Isabella Stewart
Gardner Museum in Boston, see:
Art News Headlines.

See: Art Museums in Europe.

For an outstanding collection of
Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Oriental
Judaica, crafts and artifacts,
see: Jewish Art Museum.


During Isabella's lifetime, she entertained numbers of artists, performers and intellectuals at Fenway Court, drawing inspiration from the historical works of art and opulent Venetian setting. On the death of Isabella, the Museum was bequeathed to the Boston municipality as a public gallery, on condition that the layout of the collection remained unchanged. Today, the museum's active contemporary Artist-in-Residence program, concerts, and innovative education programs all combine to maintain the Isabella Gardner legacy. In addition, the museum stages regular temporary exhibitions of historic and contemporary art.

See also our article: How To Appreciate Paintings.

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Art Collection

The compact-size collection spans six centuries of art, specializing in works by Renaissance artists and Dutch Realist painters. It also includes Baroque painting (c.1600-1700) and Neoclassical art (c.1750-1820), as well as modern art from the 19th and 20th centuries. Among works by modern artists in the collection, are two portraits of Isabella: a full-length picture (1888) by the famous Society portraitist John Singer Sargent, and another (1894), by the Swedish artist Anders Zorn.


Among the painting highlights in the permanent collection of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum are the following:

• Botticelli: Madonna of the Eucharist (1470), tempera on panel.
• Botticelli: The Story of Lucretia (1496-1504) tempera on panel.
• Raphael: The Colonna Altarpiece (c.1513-16) oil on panel.
• Titian: The Rape of Europe (1562) oil on canvas.
• Rembrandt: Christ in the Storm on the Lake of Galilee (1633) oil on canvas.
• Jan Vermeer: The Concert (1665-6) oil on canvas.
• Whistler: Harmony in Blue and Silver, Trouville (1865) oil on canvas.
• John Singer Sargent: El Jaleo (1882) oil on canvas.

These works make the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum one of the finest art museums in America.

Decorative Arts

In addition to its collection of paintings, sculptures and drawings, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum also owns a wide range of decorative artworks, including: textiles, ceramics, rare books, illuminated manuscripts, jewellery, fine art photography, silver, stained glass art and Japanese screens, as well as doors and mantelpieces.

Art Heist

In 1990, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum suffered a major loss when art thieves disguised as Boston policemen made off with 13 works of art, including The Concert by Vermeer, five drawings by Degas, and Storm on the Sea of Galilee by Rembrandt. Insurance assessors valued the works stolen at roughly $500 million, which makes this the biggest art theft ever. The works are still missing.

• For more about famous art-buyers and their collections, see: Art Collectors.
• For details of the development of painting and sculpture, see: History of Art.
• For more information about the world's greatest art museums, see: Homepage.

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