New Thing #256: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

GardnerHere's one of those New Things that makes the highlight reel for the year: On Thursday I went with my class to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

You might know about the Gardner as the art collection of an eccentric woman.

Maybe you know of it as the Museum of Fine Arts' often-overlooked little sister.

Most likely you've heard of it because of the 1990 art heist.

I knew of it, but had never been.

Now I can't wait to go back.

Here's the quick and dirty history: Isabella Stewart Gardner was an art collector, and she built this courtyard/outbuilding to house her collection. When she died, her will stipulated that the collection should remain as is. This is the early 1900s.

Fast forward to 1990, and a couple of thieves, disguised as police officers, duped the on-duty night guards into letting them in, tied up the guards, and proceeded to steal millions of dollars worth of art. (You may have heard this story on the "Boston" edition of Drunk History.) Some of the pieces of art were cut out of the frames because the thieves couldn't remove them from the wall. Remember the will stipulating that the collection should stay as is? Well, the frames stay on the wall empty because of that fact.

So we took a little hourlong tour on Thursday in small groups. My particular tour guide was great - she let the students talk about the art but kept us informed as we walked. She showed us some nice pieces, and told us about how Gardner would sit in the courtyard sipping champagne and eating donuts, admiring her art and courtyard.

It's a really amazing place, and the courtyard is just beautiful. It's one of those places where while I'm there the entire time I'm thinking, "I want to come back with my family." (Not unlike my thoughts when I was in Quebec.) Unfortunately, there are no photos allowed inside (and I'm a rule follower), so I can't show you what I liked so much.

There's something about the fact that everything is left as the owner intended - I like the idea that when I go back everything will be exactly where I saw it this time. That same fact makes it somewhat chilling to see the empty frames on the wall. I saw two big empty ones in the "Dutch Room." It's weird to think that thieves did their work in that exact spot.

I've said before (I think when I visited the Met) - I'm not the biggest art fan in the world. I'm not sure I know how to appreciate art the way it was intended. But I'm becoming better able to appreciate art museums.

And the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is already one of my favorites.