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The original "Fenway Court" building holds Mrs Gardner's vision of a 15th-century Venetian palace. The adjoining Renzo Piano-designed building next door is modern.

 


 

 

For her Boston residence, Mrs Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840-1924) had antique doors, columns, windows, and other architectural and decorative elements brought from Europe and assembled around an open court topped by a glass canopy.

She called her palace Fenway Court after the Back Bay Fens which it faced across the Fenway boulevard (map).

In January 2012, a new, modern wing designed by architect Renzo Piano opened next to the historic building.

If you have a full day when you visit the Museum of Fine Arts, plan to spend at least a few hours of it at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum nearby at 280 The Fenway.

"Mrs Jack" Gardner early developed a love of art, and with her considerable wealth and the services of connaisseur Bernard Berenson she set about to build an outstanding collection which now includes almost 300 paintings, almost as many pieces of sculpture, close to 500 pieces of furniture, and hundreds of works in textiles, ceramics, and glass.

Most of the holdings are from the great periods of European art, but classical and Oriental civilizations are also represented. Not the least of the exhibits is Fenway Court itself, which she had built to hold the collection in 1902.

The beautiful glass-roofed interior courtyard is always planted with flowers, in bloom summer and winter, and several fountains bubble merrily at one end.

Upstairs in one room is a dramatic portrait of "Mrs Jack" herself, displayed with various masterpieces above a floor covered in tiles from Henry Mercer's Moravian tile and pottery works in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

Along a corridor nearby, look for mementos of Mrs Gardner's years, including letters from many of the great and famous of the turn of the century.

In March 1990, this lovely museum suffered a tragedy when art thieves disguised as police officers tricked the guards and made off with 12 masterpieces, including paintings by Degas and Rembrandt and a rare Chinese vase, worth hundreds of millions of dollars. These irreplaceable works will probably end up in a vault somewhere, unavailable to the public, because of some thieves' greed and selfishness.

Except for July and August, free concerts of chamber music are given several days each week. They're usually very well attended, so go early to claim a seat.

The museum has a nice cafe where light meals are served.

From the Museum of Fine Arts, walk west to the Fenway, then turn left and walk two short blocks to Fenway Court (map).

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
2 Palace Road/280 The Fenway (map)
Boston MA 02115
Tel 617-566-1401

—by Tom Brosnahan


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Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston MA

Mrs Gardner's "Fenway Court"
seen from the new wing.

 

 

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