Y’all, I love museums. And I *especially* love visiting museums that were once the home of yesteryear’s rich and powerful. (See a post I wrote about the Pittock mansion here!)
And it comes as a surprise to no one, that one such fabulous museum is in the Boston area, namely the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum!
I had never heard of this museum before my BFF Kate told me about it. (She’s going to grad school in Boston, and spends a LOT of time at museums.)
Upon reading the history of the museum, I was totally shocked that I hadn’t heard of it before! A wealthy woman building a fabulous house that’s also a museum?!?! Talk about hitting all of my interests!
Below, I’ve shared info on visiting the museum, some photos and some fab photos. BUT I haven’t shared ALLLL of the wonderful surprises – because I want you to go for yourself.
(Aside: The website for the museum is very good, and I often check back for in-depth articles or other fun learning moments!)
Section 1: Tips for Visiting the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
If you’re a first-time visitor to the museum, then you’ll definitely want to read this section.
#1: This Museum is a Bit Different
So, I’m a mega travel and museum nerd – and I love to read all the little cards explaining the art work.
BUT, you won’t find those cards at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum!
You see, Mrs. Gardner wanted people to form their own opinions about the work. So, she decreed that those little notecards with the opinions of curators were to be banished!
But don’t fret. The museum has handy cards (small posters) stationed around that are laminated, put in a little organizer off to the side – should you fall in love with a piece and want to know who created it!
#2: Two Museums in One
The Isabella Stewart Gardner museum has done an incredible job of engaging with contemporary art, and this is really personified by the addition of The New Wing.
From the website: “The New Wing, which opened in 2012, expands our ability to provide an exceptional experience for all. The New Wing features visitor amenities, learning spaces, a performance hall, and special exhibition gallery.”
The ISG Museum has an artist-in-residence program, and beautifully intertwines the past with the present throughout the museum. (I’m a serious exhibit design nerd, can you tell?)
#3: Museum Entrance Fee & Tickets
Getting tickets to enter the museum is pretty straightforward. Here’s the prices:
- Adults: $15
- Under 18: Free
- Senior Citizens (65+): $12
- College Students with Current ID: $10
More info on tickets here.
Is Your Name “Isabella”?
Isabella Stewart Gardner was *quite* the character, and those with her first name get free admission!
#4: How much time does it take to visit the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum?
Excellent question! I would estimate that you’d need 3.5 hours to thoroughly view everything and read everything you can find. All in all, Kate and I spent about 2.5 hours at the museum – not including The New Wing.
#5: Hot Tip: Use Coat Check // Lockers
On this most recent trip to the museum, we had well-meaning staff tell Kate to hold her coat in a different way – for a total of seven times. Seven. Times. From folding up her coat to putting it in her purse strap to draping it, etc etc.
Save yourself the headache and use the coat check.
[Totally understand why – we’ll discuss the museum’s history with art theft shortly, – but dang it was really quite annoying.]
#6: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum & Accessibility
The ISG website has the most thorough explanation on accessibility I’ve ever seen, viewable here.
The museum staff is very courteous and approachable, and if you have accessibility concerns I definitely encourage you to call!
#7: Getting to the Museum
Kate and I used Lyft to get to the museum (who wants to deal with parking?!), and you can view transit tips here.
Section 2: History of the Museum
The website does an incredible job of explaining the history of the museum, but I wanted to highlight a few things:
Who Was Isabella Stewart Gardner?
ISG was considered an eccentric (woo being wealthy!), and she really pushed at society’s constraints and expectation of women.
The press loved to write about her, and Gardner “created much fodder for the gossip columns of the day with her reputation for stylish tastes and unconventional behavior. The Boston society pages called her by many names, including ‘Belle,’ ‘Donna Isabella,’ ‘Isabella of Boston,’ and ‘Mrs. Jack'” (Wikipedia).
After inheriting $1.6 million (about $45 million in today’s money), Isabella decided to create her own museum.
If we stopped at the story of ISG, the museum would be immensely fascinating.
But there’s more! The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is the site of the largest unsolved art theft in world history!
From the website: “In the early morning hours of March 18, 1990, a pair of thieves disguised as police officers entered the Gardner Museum and stole 13 works of art by world-renowned artists such as Rembrandt, Vermeer, Manet, and Degas. The works, including Rembrandt’s Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee (his only known seascape) and Vermeer’s The Concert, are worth more than $500 million.”
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum hangs empty frames in memory of these pieces, as symbols of hope that the works will be returned.
Section 3: My Day at the Museum
I wish I could pack all my favorite things about this museum into one post, but that would be a book!
Here are some highlights:
The Courtyard is one of the most visually stunning places I’ve ever been.
“Only women inhabit this space–look carefully and you’ll notice that the figures depicted in its many artworks are all female. Surrounding them is a living, breathing work of art: a garden. The highlighted plants here change almost every month, from orchids in the winter to nasturtium hangings in the spring, all set amid an array of other flowers and lush ferns, shrubs, and palms.”
I’m reticent to post alllll the pictures and video I have of this space, because I think it will be so much more powerful if you go with little visual spoilers!
Low Lighting FTW
To preserve artifacts, the museum has lower lighting – making it a bit difficult for travel bloggers to share photos.
I love the portrait of Isabella Stewart Gardner on the top floor – and I thoroughly enjoy the journey up all the floors to it.
Should You Visit the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum?
YES YES YES YEEEEEES!
Even if you’re not a history nerd (hi!), there are so many visually fascinating things to see.
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