From the Archives

Explore evidence of an artful life through Gardner's letters and keepsakes.


Egypt Diary

With albumen print photograph by Francis Frith (English, 1822-1898)
Isabella Stewart Gardner (American, 1840-1924)
Watercolor and ink on paper, 1874-1875

Gardner’s travel diary contains her handwritten narrative as well as commercial photographs and her own watercolor landscape studies. This page opening shows her interest in Egyptian mashrabiya, a type of window screened by latticework.

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The Casa Loredan, Venice

John Ruskin (English, 1819-1900)
Pen and brush in brown ink and watercolor on gray paper, 1850

Gardner admired the work of John Ruskin and acquired this drawing through her friend Charles Eliot Norton, a professor of fine art at Harvard University who was also Ruskin’s literary executor.

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Theobaldo Travi in the North Cloister, Fenway Court

Thomas E. Marr and Son (American)
Silver gelatin print photograph, 1904

Thomas Marr & Son, a photographic firm based in Boston, comprehensively photographed the interiors of Gardner’s museum. This photograph depicts the Museum’s majordomo, “Bolgi,” in dress uniform.

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Uniform designs for Theobaldo Travi

Joseph Lindon Smith (American, 1863-1950)
Pencil, ink and watercolor on paper, 1901-1903

Joseph Lindon Smith was an artist and close friend of Gardner’s. His fanciful design for the Museum’s majordomo uniform reflects their shared love of theatre and costuming.

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Travel album: Netherlands, Germany, Italy

Isabella Stewart Gardner (American, 1840-1924)

Gardner traveled widely in Europe between the 1860s and early 1900s, with extended stays in Italy. She relished the drama of cultural events such as the Palio di Siena, a yearly horse race depicted in her album.

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Bernard Berenson

Sarah Choate Sears (American, 1858-1935)
Platinum print photograph, 1903-1906

Gardner collected many striking portraits of her friends and associates, including this profile of art historian Bernard Berenson. Berenson was an important art advisor to Gardner and played a vital role in her acquisition of numerous masterpieces.

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Matthew Stewart Prichard

Henri Matisse (French, 1869-1954)
Etching, 1914
© 2016 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Matthew Stewart Prichard was the assistant director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and for a time lived in an apartment at Fenway Court. His friendship with Gardner influenced her ideas about contemporary art, especially the work of his friend Henri Matisse.

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Arches for Fenway Court

Moise Dalla Torre
Gelatin on paper photograph, late 19th century

Art dealers regularly sent Gardner photographic reproductions of works for sale, including the architectural salvage seen here. These arches would later be installed in the walls of the courtyard.

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Piero della Francesca's 'Hercules'

Watercolor on paper, about 1903

Elia Volpi was an art dealer in Florence who provided Gardner with this painstaking watercolor rendering of Piero della Francesca’s Hercules. The artist carefully rendered the cracks in the surface of the fresco to give Gardner a realistic idea of its condition.

Learn more about how Gardner collected Hercules in The End Justifies the Means.

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Letter to Isabella Stewart Gardner

Henry Adams (American, 1838-1918)
Ink on paper, 1906

Historian Henry Adams was a close friend and occasional art advisor to Gardner. In this letter, he describes the stained glass window from Soissons Cathedral that is now installed in the third floor Chapel.

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Shipping receipt to Isabella Stewart Gardner

Fernand Robert
Ink on paper, 1907

Modern conveyances made transatlantic shipping easier for American collectors at the turn of the twentieth century, and professional art handlers like Fernand Robert ensured the safe passage of Gardner’s masterpieces.

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Nellie Melba

Ernest Walter Histed (English, 1862-1947)
Platinum print photograph, 1899

Operatic soprano Dame Nellie Melba was a Gilded Age celebrity and admirer of both Gardner and her museum. She performed at Fenway Court in 1905, where she sang into the courtyard from the top of the stairs to the Dutch Room.

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President Theodore Roosevelt

President Theodore Roosevelt
Arthur Hewitt (life dates unknown)
Photograph, 1904

John Singer Sargent painted President Theodore Roosevelt’s portrait and acquired this autographed photograph on Gardner’s behalf. She placed it in a case in the Long Gallery alongside photographs of other statesmen.

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Elizabeth Cary Agassiz

Elizabeth Cary Agassiz
Carleton Watkins (American, 1829-1916)
Albumen photograph, 1870s

Elizabeth Cary Agassiz was the co-founder and first president of Radcliffe College. Gardner requested this photograph for the collection, which was taken at Carleton Watkins’ studio in San Francisco.

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Letter to General Rigaud

Charles Dodgson, called Lewis Carroll (English, 1832-1898)
Ink on paper, no date

Gardner admired the work of Lewis Carroll and placed first editions of both Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass in the Long Gallery. This letter discusses Carroll’s work in photographic portraiture with a prospective sitter.

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Version of Ekla Chalo Re

Rabindranath Tagore (Indian, 1861-1941)
Ink on paper, 1913

Poet Rabindranath Tagore was a Nobel Laureate who met Gardner through their mutual friend Okakura Kakuzo. Tagore visited her at the Museum and presented her with this handwritten version of a poem for the collection.

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Copyright © 2016 Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. All rights reserved.

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Premier Exhibition Sponsor: The Richard C. von Hess Foundation. The opening reception and preview are generously sponsored by Tom and Lisa Blumenthal. Exhibition support is provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for Humanities. This exhibition also is supported in part by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, which receives support from the State of Massachusetts and the National Endowment for the Arts. Any viewings, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this exhibition do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Media Sponsor: 90.9 WBUR, Boston’s NPR® News Station.