A century ago, heiress Isabella Stewart Gardner created the perfect antidote to Boston’s cold, dark, wet winters when she built a light-suffused, temperate garden in the courtyard of her own personal museum. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum isn’t really a house, although Gardner lived in an apartment on the fourth floor until her death in 1924. Opening with a concert by members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra on New Year’s Day, 1903, this replica of a 15th-century Venetian-style palazzo presents an astounding and wide-ranging collection of art in a personal and intimate setting. Mrs. Gardner collected much of the art in just a few years, and personally supervised the construction of the palazzo and the installation of the collection. On view are such treasures as the only fresco by Piero della Francesca outside Italy, a Rembrandt self portrait as a young man, and Gardner herself, painted by John Singer Sargent and others. (Several priceless treasures by Vermeer, Rembrandt, and others stolen in 1990 are still at large.) The courtyard, brimming with flowers year round, remains the museum’s beating heart: a restful place to pause and reflect on a remarkable environment for art created by one woman.
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 280 The Fenway, Boston, (617) 566-1401, gardnermuseum.org