Gardner, Isabella Stewart

Gardner, Isabella Stewart,

1840–1924, American art collector, b. New York City. She lived in Boston following her marriage to the financier Jack Gardner. After the Civil War her home became known for brilliant social affairs and as a center for gatherings of painters, literary people, musicians, and other celebrities. Her lifelong interest in art led her to sponsor various contemporary artists and the young connoisseur Bernard BerensonBerenson, Bernard
, 1865–1959, American art critic and connoisseur of Italian art, b. Lithuania, grad. Harvard, 1887. An expert and an arbiter of taste, he selected for art collectors innumerable paintings, many of which are now in museums.
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, who advised her in the collecting of many works. Her husband cooperated with her in her plan to create an art museum. Fenway Court was built after the Venetian manner to house their valuable collection and was willed to the city of Boston as a public museum to be preserved without change.


See A. Pope and J. D. Hatch, Jr., ed., The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum: Reproductions of Paintings (1935); M. Carter, Isabella Stewart Gardner and Fenway Court (1925, 2d ed. 1940); L. H. Tharp, Mrs. Jack (1965); D. Shand-Tucci, The Art of Scandal (1997).

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Gardner, Isabella Stewart

(1840–1924) art collector; born in New York City. Daughter of David Stewart, a wealthy New York City importer and mining investor, she was schooled privately, toured Europe (1856–58), and married John Lowell Gardner (1860) with his proper Bostonian pedigree. She settled in Boston but was not accepted by its old society; when the death of her two-year-old son (1865) was followed by a miscarriage, she and her husband went to Europe; after they returned in 1868, "Mrs. Jack" soon established herself as the most flamboyant and sought-after hostess in Boston. At first her energies went into entertaining, interior decoration, gardening, traveling, and collecting friends and odds-and-ends, but by the late 1880s she set out seriously to collect great art. Assisted by—and subsidizing—Bernard Berenson, just out of nearby Harvard College, she began to purchase mainly works of the European Renaissance. (She had inherited a large fortune when her father died in 1891.) To house her growing collection, she built an ambitious Italianate palazzo, Fenway Court; incorporated as the semiprivate Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1902, it was opened to the first select guests in 1903. She continued to add objects over the next few years and stipulated that everything must stay exactly where she placed it. Regarded as somewhere between an exotic aesthete and a Jamesian heroine, she defined herself with her oft-quoted motto, "C'est mon plaisir."
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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