The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston is unique to me among house museums today for its continuing focus on its namesake’s passion for horticulture and garden design.
Sited, appropriately, on the Fenway — part of Boston’s “Emerald Necklace” of parks designed by Frederick Law Olmsted — the interplay between the sylvan courtyard and the museum galleries invites visitors to embrace the connection between art and landscape.
Built by Mrs. Gardner to evoke a 15th century Venetian palace, three floors of galleries surround the courtyard, its walls framed by actual facades of an Italian palazzo. Additionally, eight Venetian stone balconies were incorporated into this inner sanctuary. The substantial glass roof provides the ideal level of light for not only the floral displays but for the permanent tall ferns and palm trees.
Both Mrs. Gardner’s home as well as a museum, it is considered one of the most important tributes in the United States to the Italian Renaissance and has been shared with the public since its opening in 1903 (Mrs. Gardner died in 1924). Her collections include more than 7500 paintings, sculptures, furniture, textiles, silver and ceramics from Europe, Asia, the Islamic world and 19th century France and North America.
The museum’s interior courtyard combines ever-changing horticultural displays with sculpture and architectural elements. The curators of the courtyard garden (the magnetic center of the museum for Mrs. Gardner) offer 6 different seasonal horticultural displays…currrently, orchids are the flowers of choice.
Here, the exquisite South African bulb, Veltheimia bracteate (Forest Lily is the common name) takes center stage in the courtyard
around the impressive tile mosaic purchased in Rome by Mrs. Gardner for this sanctuary.
But it is the intimate atmosphere in which the works of art are displayed and its flower-filled courtyard that make the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum so memorable…a welcome retreat in an urban environment.
All photos taken by, Michelle Pugliese for Private Newport.