What would you say to a person fascinated by eccentric figures? Eccentricity exists only in contrast with “normalcy”. Considering it is impossible to define what is normal, and I would have thought that eccentricity would be even harder to define.
Not quite so. Strangely, it comes very easy for us, the commoners, to tag a person as eccentric. And usually they must have huge pockets, an unscrupulous mind, an aristocratic posture, and little care for being judged by the “normal” crowd around them (which produces as as much suffering as it stirs fascination among the public.) A sophisticated one would not consider him/herself eccentric, but rather “gifted with creativity”, showing complete trust in instincts, and demonstrating an uncommon originality. And Isabella is one of the best.
Not once during my visit did I feel as if I am in a museum.The opposite. I’ve asked my friend what room would he rent, as if we were in a hotel or a vacation mansion. Degas, Rembrandt, Matisse, Raphael, are exposed next to Chinese bears or some ostrich egg, 14 century chairs, crucifixes, instruments, from musical to useless little things that don’t seem to have any utility today except for decorative, hand painted scarfs, overwhelmingly big Asian carpets, and Roman mosaics, church vitrali. You feel that you are exploring someone else’s intimacy, being careful not to disturb, though you came at her invite. As when humble guests are trying to please a difficult host, so that they’ll be on the list next time.
Some art is hidden in corners, under pieces of velvet cloths and visitors are invited to peek in, to remove the covers temporarily (an interaction not allowed in any other museum), moment in which they all whisper the little discovery: her handwriting!, an old book!, un collier! The most beautiful pieces do not patronize the middle of the rooms like queens. Instead, to find them, one should look for the source of light: next to the small window, for example.
Rooms inhabited by oddness; erotic scenes neighboring solemn altars. As in the case where the lost and crying Jesus is next to the abduction of carnal Europa by hungry Zeus. Some say that mixing Orthodox with Pagan is eccentric? I’d say that a true eccentric doesn’t really care. It is the love of art that conducted her spirit, not following norms. Obviously, she knew that she is breaking what ever social rules there might be, so she donated her entire home with all it contains to Boston after having them sign a contract: never to move or remove pieces; they have to be shown exactly as they are - not one centimeter to the left, and not one to the right.
Photo: Isabella with a black dress with a deep décolleté and what it seems to be a "tapestry" aureole (halo).
Isabella Stewart Gardner (1888), by John Singer Sargent.
In 1990, 2 thieves dressed in police officers stole 13 pieces of art (one signed by Rembrandt). They were never found.
Isabella disassembled entire spaces and assembled them back in her home.
Her dad left her 1.5 million dollars at his death, moment when she became a real collector
She was an avid negotiator.
She turned to Asian Art when she was challenged by Frick and other powerful collectors of her time
The museum found a way to rotate pieces with other museums all over the world, by "sending them for cleaning and restoration