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The Mass Media

The history behind The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Mel Berilo
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Photo by Mel Berilo / Mass Media Staff

Boston is filled with all sorts of exciting and fun locations for art lovers. With concerts, conventions, theatres and much, much more—there’s plenty to choose from! One of these choices is the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, a location known around the world for a variety of reasons.

Having opened on Jan. 1, 1903, the museum has a history spanning more than 100 years. It was named by the founder, Isabella Stewart Gardner, who stayed in charge of the museum until her death in 1924 (1). Many of the paintings in the museum have been hanging up since its early years. In fact, when she died, Gardner dictated in her will that no pieces in the galleries should ever be acquired or sold from the collection (1). If you go to the library, what you’ll see is a museum defined by a solitary vision.

However, it’s not just old news in the building. They currently have an exhibition, titled “Titian: Women, Myth, and Power”, which will be available until Jan. 2, 2022. While it mostly focuses on works of the 16th century artist Titian (hence the name), it also includes “[n]ewly commissioned responses by contemporary artists and scholars [that] engage with questions of gender, power, and sexual violence as relevant today as they were in the Renaissance” (2). Artists Mary Reid Kelly, Patrick Kelly and Barbara Kruger all have work displayed in the exhibition. 

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum also offers a student discount that those of us in college can take advantage of. Why might this particular detail be of interest to a group of people that seem to be synonymous with the words “broke” and “in debt”?  I think the answer may be obvious. With an adult ticket price of $20 and a student price of $13, you’ll have an extra seven dollars to spend on whatever you want.

One of the most famous pieces of history about the museum is what happened there over thirty years ago. On March 18, 1990, the museum was subjected to one of the largest art heists in history. Two thieves, dressed in police uniforms, stole thirteen works of art, including some notable paintings by Vermeer and Rembrandt (3). It took them 81 minutes to do so, but the effects of the heist are still talked about decades later. Many of the paintings were cut out of their frames.  This is why it is fitting that empty frames are hanging in the museum, as they are acting as placeholders for the stolen pieces, hoping for an eventual return (4).

The heist has made it back into the news a few times recently. Earlier this year, Netflix released a documentary series titled “This Is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist”. It acted as not only a way of retelling the events, but also of keeping the search for the paintings alive. Last month, the last remaining person of interest in the case—Robert Gentile—died, once again causing this case to be discussed (5). A reward of 10 million dollars is being offered by the museum for information leading to the return of the missing artwork.

So, whether it’s for the history, the discount or simply the quality of the art on display, there are many different reasons to visit the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. It is located at 25 Evans Way, right here in Boston, Massachusetts. 

  1. https://www.gardnermuseum.org/about/isabella-stewart-gardner

  2. https://www.gardnermuseum.org/calendar/exhibition/women-myth-power?gclid=CjwKCAjw2bmLBhBREiwAZ6ugo4YmLvIpOqM4utE9BG5tfzo-luVq2Sl0cnE6LCkyFfpGh-AqRESrvBoCbUgQAvD_BwE

  3. https://www.artnews.com/art-news/reviews/this-is-a-robbery-review-netflix-gardner-museum-heist-1234589340/

  4. https://www.gardnermuseum.org/about/theft-story

5. https://www.nbcboston.com/news/local/last-surviving-person-of-interest-in-gardner-museum-heist-dies/2499018/

About the Contributors
Kyle Makkas, Humor Writer
Mel Berilo, Photographer