One of the world’s biggest art robberies of all time took place here. In 1990, two thieves dressed as cops looted 13 pieces of artworks from the museum. Read all about it in this fantastic story by Google Arts and Culture. As a reminder to the sad event, empty frames hang in the museum even today. There is still hope that the works will find their way back to the rightful place.
I visited the museum on a rainy Sunday. If you get a ticket to the Museum of Fine Arts, you get a visit to ISG Museum for free. Unlike the MFA which is HUGE, and you probably might have to plan which floors to cover, the ISG is more intimate and cozy. There are no separate sections for sculptures or contemporary art. A room would contain a mix of everything. You won’t find labels under each painting, but what you will find are neat brochures which contain information about each piece of work that include a diverse variety — from basins to fabrics and even an Ostrich egg!
Now, just like in every museum, there are guides you can direct your questions to. There is also a counter from where you can take a blank postcard and a pencil, seat yourself wherever you want inside the museum, and sketch something. It’s remarkable how much you observe when you try your hand at realism. As you stroll around the property, you get to see personal letters (there are 7,000 of them) written by the cream of society to Isabella. The list includes famous personalities such as Henry James. Each item was purchased by Isabella after falling in love with it. And most of them are elaborately described in letters by her chief art advisor Bernard Berenson.
According to the website, the museum is home to “more than 7500 paintings, sculptures, furniture, textiles, silver, ceramics, 1500 rare books, and 7000 archival objects-from ancient Rome, Medieval Europe, Renaissance Italy, Asia, the Islamic world and 19th-century France and America.”
Was Isabella always interested in art? She was born in New York City to a well-to-do family. Her dad was into import of fabrics. She went to Paris for studies, and met Jack Gardner there, fell in love, got married and moved to his hometown in Boston. They had a son three years after the wedding. But unfortunately, he succumbed to pneumonia within two years. This left the couple depressed, and it was Isabella’s doctor who suggested that Gardner take his wife elsewhere to overcome the emotional trauma.
Off they went to Europe and Russia, followed by Egypt, Middle East and Asia. And everywhere she went, she collected what pleased her eyes. Thus over the years, she built a collection enough for a grand museum, which she built after her husband’s death in 1898. She moved to the fourth floor of the museum, and continued to host parties, concerts and lectures for the who’s who of society. As you walk around the museum, you will find it hard to separate this story from what you see. Every collectible screams of a passion for art that Isabella had. A passion that did still thrives in her home, long after her death.