John Singer Sargent [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons”
Isabella Stewart Gardner by John Singer Sargent
Today we took a field trip to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Dom got a Living Social deal and we figured it was about time for our art loving Bella to visit the museum founded by her namesake.
Isabella Stewart was a New York heiress who married a Bostonian. They traveled extensively and she developed a taste for art, especially Renaissance Venetian art. When she inherited her father’s fortune she became a collector and after her husband died she built a gorgeous Italian style pallazzo on the Fenway to house her eclectic collection. The museum is rather a challenge for curators as Isabella’s will specified that the permanent collection cannot be substantially changed. The museum can neither add to or remove from the collection nor can they so much as move the objects and paintings around. In the Dutch room the empty frames of two stolen Rembrandts hang on the wall, stolen in 1990 in one of the most famous art heists in history.
I just love this museum. I love that it has so much personality, you can feel the presence of the woman whose vision it was. All the pieces, great and small that she collected. Here a bunch of vestments, there a collection of little glass bottles. Here a table set with golden cups and fine china, there a glass case full of lace. Chinese and Egyptian pieces, Greek and Roman, Medieval and Renaissance and Impressionist pieces jostle together with reliquaries, sketches, and furniture. There is a room full of tapestries with a gigantic fireplace, the intricately carved mantle is from France. A portrait of Mary Tudor, a self portrait of Rembrandt, a beautiful sedan chair, choir stalls, sarcophagi….
My favorite part of the museum is the central courtyard atrium. A fountain plays, orchids and hydrangeas bloom around a mosaic floor with a central medallion of Medusa’s head, the whole surrounded by beautiful cloisters filled with statues and objects d’arts. The glass roof is four stories above you and you feel like you are outside. I kept thinking: that’s is what I need in my house, a space where the kids can run and play in all weather but feel they are outside. Yes, I really wish I could live in the museum. I could get used to waking up in a room where I could look out on that courtyard full of flowers and green. It really is a little slice of heaven.
I wish I had photographs, but no cameras are allowed in the museum and no cell phone activity either. You’ll just have to click through and explore the museum’s site, which does let you browse their collections both by rooms and by genres and has a nice Explore feature as well.
Bella, Sophie, and Ben all loved it. Though as usual when going with children, we can’t stay very long. We arrived not long after the museum opened at 11, wandered over the first floor until 12. Then went out to have a picnic in the park across the street while watching the geese, squirrels, sparrows, and passing art students. The children amused themselves throwing sandwich crumbs and cheerios to the sparrows. At bedtime Bella told me that was her favorite part of the day. But she loved the art too. I know we will be back to this special place many times. (And as an Isabella she will get in free for life, though that doesn’t matter now as all children under 18 are free in accordance with the museum’s mission to teach art appreciation.)
After lunch we spent another hour or so wandering the second and third floors. Our exploration of the third floor was rather rushed since it was well past Anthony’s nap time and even Bella, Ben, and Sophie were fading. One rule of visiting museums with little people is to remember that you can’t see everything. You have to plan to give them enough to whet their appetites, trusting that some day you will return to drink more deeply. But it would take many days even for enthusiastic adults to begin to scratch the surface of this remarkable museum.
I did let each of the big kids get a print at the museum gift card since our Living Social deal included fifty dollars to spend there. Sophie got a beautiful picture of chrysanthemums, Bella got a portrait by John Singer Sargent of a woman holding a wine glass, Ben got a Spanish St Michael. I figure letting them each have a piece of art which is theirs is a great way of helping them to make connections, to feel that the art is theirs and the museum is theirs. Now I just need to go get some frames…. We also have some prints they got at Christmas and some I found on great sale last year. Once they are all framed the kids’ rooms are going to be little art galleries. How fun is that?
Oh and Lucia? How did she make out, you ask. She slept the whole time in the sling. Didn’t even wake up for lunch.
You can also read more about the museum and the famous theft at the museum’s Wikipedia page.