Isabella Stewart Gardner

Isabella Stewart Gardner

New York, New York County (Manhattan), New York, USA
Death 17 Jul 1924 (aged 84)
Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, USA
Burial Cambridge, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, USA
Plot Oxalis Path, Lot 2900.
Memorial ID 2838 · View Source
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American socialite and patron of the arts, best known for founding the Boston art museum that bears her name. If anyone had a vision for making the arts accessible to the people, it was Isabella Stewart Gardner. She was born in 1840 in New York City, the daughter of wealthy businessman David Stewart and socialite Adelia Smith. Isabella was educated privately, and her first tour of Europe in 1854 nurtured what became her lifelong passion: the arts. In 1860, she married wealthy financier John Lowell “Jack” Gardner of Boston. Though Isabella’s family was socially prominent in New York, she never felt fully accepted by Jack’s family and other members of Boston's aristocracy. She developed sensitivity to others who felt alienated, namely artists. When their two-year-old son died in 1865, Isabella was immensely grieved. In response, she traveled to Europe with her husband and again was absorbed by the art there. They returned to Boston in 1868 where "Mrs. Jack" overcame her feelings of grief and soon became, with her lavish parties and spirited discussions, one of Boston society's premier hostesses; she also became a patron of the Boston Symphony. She entertained, gardened, decorated, and traveled, building her creative perspectives and inviting artists, writers, and musicians to their home whenever possible, a tradition she never gave up. Isabella had become a serious collector of great art by the late 1880s. When her father died in 1891, he left her an inheritance from which she could fund her growing collection. Her collecting career assumed new urgency when her beloved husband died suddenly in 1898. Again, Isabella turned to art for comfort, this time by purchasing the land on which her museum now stands. With the goal of building a museum that would also be her home, she immersed herself in the design and construction project. The building featured Venetian terraces, a four-story courtyard, art and music galleries, a top-floor apartment where she lived, and even a private chapel - with decorative arts from east and West. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum opened in 1903. For the next 16 years, she continued to add objects. In her will, Gardner bequeathed the museum to the city of Boston as a public institution. There was one condition, however: the collection had to be maintained precisely as Gardner had arranged it. Nothing could be added, removed or rearranged. The museum and its collection, both monuments to personal taste, remain unique to this day. Shortly after Christmas in 1919, Isabella suffered a debilitating stroke, but her spirit remained strong until her death in 1924, at age 84. Her enduring passion for art can be seen in the diverse collection that remains untouched at her home. In 1990 the Gardner museum was robbed of 13 masterpieces worth an estimated $300 million. None of the works has yet been recovered and the empty frames continue to hang in their original positions.

Bio by: Edward Parsons

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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 29 Apr 1998
  • Find A Grave Memorial 2838
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Isabella Stewart Gardner (14 Apr 1840–17 Jul 1924), Find A Grave Memorial no. 2838, citing Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .