Thursday, August 09, 2007

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

While we were in Boston, I decided to take YB's recommendation and go to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, which is just a hop skip and a jump from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Originally, I had planned to go both museums on the same day, but going to the MFA alway seems to take the majority of the day and we didn't want to rush it. That turned out to be a good decision, because the Isabella Steward Gardner museum deserved quite a bit of attention.

The museum, which is the house in which the wealthy art collector lived, is jam-packed full of artwork by artists such as Sargent, Zorn, Rubens, Titian and Botticelli. The house is still decorated as it was when Gardner died, in 1924, so the rooms are lit very dimly to preserve both the watercolors and the fabrics. One of the rooms has a cabinet like structure that allows people to view panels full of framed artwork as if they were pages in a book. There are far too many works to display on the walls alone. They had even more paintings, including a Monet, before a major heist in 1990.

I thought one of the most beautiful aspects of the museum was the central enclosed atrium, which is full of sculptures, palms, orchids, caryotas and hydrangeas. It just seemed extremely peaceful. The majority of the rooms of the house look out onto the atrium through glass or open windows. I actually think just the atrium alone would be worth visiting, even without the artwork in the rest of the museum.

While their elevator is old and small, it seems more modern than many of the ones on Duke's campus and it works fine. Some of the doorways on the upper floors are extremely narrow. I actually worried that my comparatively small chair was going to get stuck going through one of them on the third floor and I just barely made it through. Visitors with larger wheelchairs should definitely keep that in mind.

Another interesting characteristic is that almost none of the artwork is labeled. In a couple of the rooms with the more famous paintings, they have laminated cards indicating the artist of each of the paintings on each of the four walls. Those were extremely helpful. Later on, one of the docents recommended that we borrow a guidebook from the front desk. That was useful, but it was still difficult to identify some pieces based on their written descriptions of the everything in the room. I'm afraid that I practically detest audio tours, with rare exceptions, so I wasn't willing to use that option.

All in all, I thought it was a wonderful experience, which I would recommend highly.

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