The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is one of the leading collections of art and history in Boston Massachusetts. The former wife of famed Boston artist John Stewart Gardner (who is also the author of many of the world’s most famous paintings) commissioned more than two hundred works of art in response to her husband’s request for something “more modern.” The resulting collection, which you can see today in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Boston, represents a significant and vibrant cross section of the career of Gardner, who was deeply interested in the new art world and the impact it had on art.
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is located at the historic Gardner House, which has been home to the family for fourteen years. John Stewart Gardner was the first of four children born to Philip Gardner, a wool manufacturer and entrepreneur. The family lived in a small home on the bottom floor of what was one of Boston’s most fashionable neighborhoods, Boston Common. Today, visitors to this exquisite museum will be able to admire a sampling of this dynamic and colorful artistic culture – along with a glimpse into the daily life of the Gardner household.
Part of the museum’s focus is on the Gardner’s own painting practice, which spanned several decades, through to the death of his spouse, in 1931. The main exhibition areas feature works by Gardner’s various partners, all of which share a common appreciation of early American contemporary art. In addition to these main exhibits, the museum regularly conducts research collaborations with other museums, galleries and research centers throughout the United States and the world. In these collaborations, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum curators bring renowned artists from other disciplines to examine American art in context. Some of these collaborations have included conversations between artists concerning the social, political and environmental impacts of their artwork.
As part of the wider context of the Stewart Gardner Museum, the permanent exhibit area features a large number of works by Robert Rauschenberg. The prominent figure in the history of American art, whose work is acknowledged by many colleagues and scholars, produced some of the most innovative paintings and sculptures of the 20th century. The Robert Rauschenberg Museum and its permanent exhibit, New York: Paintings and Sculptures, holds over 100 paintings, including some never before seen. Among the Rauschenberg paintings are The Dinner (1958), The Meeting (1961) and Take Me Out to the Mall (1961). Many of these iconic works have been displayed elsewhere, but none has enjoyed as wide a distribution as the Robert Rauschenberg Museum and its permanent exhibit The Dinner.
In addition to the Robert Rauschenberg exhibitions, the museum has a permanent exhibit on the history and philosophy of American art, co-curated by Dr. Stewart. The exhibit features a selection of works from some of the world’s most famous painters, as well as some lesser-known ones. The brilliance and beauty of these works, which span the entire spectrum of art, is hard to exaggerate. For an overview of all the works in this exhibition, the museum has assembled a short list of highlights.
Robert Rauschenberg’s The Dinner (1958) is among the landmarks of American art. The dinner, which took place at the Waldorf-Astoria and was presented by John Kennedy, remains one of the rare treats for art lovers. The Dinner was also featured in the film, Breakthrough (2021), which was set in Boston. The painting is on display in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and its permanent collection.
Another highly significant painting from Boston’s history is Rembrandt’s Birthplace (ca. 1565), which has only recently come into the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. In this masterpiece, the Dutch master artist portrayed the nativity scene in the city’s South Boston Church. One of the finest examples of Dutch art in America, Rembrandt’s work is notable for the attention to detail and the richness of color that he brought to his depictions. The painting has just recently come into the museum, and displays quite well. It will most likely remain there for the foreseeable future.
Finally, we come to the most recent additions to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum: sculptural installations. Between the years of 2021, the museum had a series of ten art sculptures from various artists. Three of these are from the same family: Paul Durand-Ruel, Valerianella and Peter Fojer. The sculptures were made between these years and the one that precedes it (the fifteen year development) marked a turning point in American sculpture. The addition of the final piece, Bosch, is perhaps the most exciting part of this exhibition, as it represents a completely new era in Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and sculpture.