The low-key, three-floor Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum embodies a woman who, for over three decades, assembled a collection of more than two thousand artifacts (paintings, sculptures, objects, textiles, drawings, manuscripts, photographs, letters, etc.) from around the world.
The story begins when Isabella lost her first and only child to pneumonia. Soon after, she discovered she would be unable to conceive again. Traumatized by the loss of her child and the barren news, Isabella felt defeated and sank into a two-year seclusion in which she remained in her room, refusing to interact with the outside world. In the end, it was her husband’s decision to take her on a trip across Europe that revived Isabella’s love for life, and she began to travel.
From her travels all over Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, Isabella found a new purpose: bringing back strange and beautiful objects from these foreign lands. After filling several warehouses in Boston with her new goods, she decided to build Fenway Court to house her entire collection, which she opened to the public in 1903.
Her collection includes framed textiles, signed letters from celebrities, and strange artifacts such as a 17th-century silver German ostrich. When seen as a whole, the eclectic mix portrays the interest and curiosities of a woman from the late 19th century who pursued their passion.
In 1990, 13 works of art were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s collection. It was one of the largest property thefts in history, and the crime remains unsolved to this day. The museum offers a $10 million reward for information that leads to the safe return of the stolen works. Those pieces include The Concert, one of just 34 known paintings by Johannes Vermeer, Rembrandt’s only seascape, and works by famous artists like Edgar Degas and Édouard Manet.
Know Before You Go
Take the Huntington Avenue number 39 bus or the Green Line E-train to the Museum stop. Cross Huntington Avenue to Louis Prang Street. Walk down Louis Prang Street for two blocks. The Museum is on the left. You can see the MFA from the Gardner. They are very close together. The Gardner was target of an infamous art crime in 1990 that has not been solved to date. There are still empty spots in one section where the stolen pieces used to be. Some libraries have passes for here. If you have an EBT card you can get in for a discount price. Anyone named Isabella has free lifetime admission.