Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

The Gardner Museum had it’s grand reopening a few weeks ago. Word was  they had expanded and improved the museum, melding the old  castle/courtyard space  with a brand new modern building right beside it. This is a fraud on two counts. First, while there is a brand new modern building, there is almost no art in it. Restaurants, gift shops, performance space (they give a lot of concerts there) to be sure. But all the old dark, dreary art in the claustrophobic castle is still jammed in on nearly every inch of wall space. I had forgotten what a dump this is, and how I disliked coming here.

It’s dark (the better to preserve the priceless paintings). That’s great, but actually seeing the priceless art is nearly impossible. You would have thought – what with the stolen paintings and the space freed up by moving the performance space – that there would be a more roomy feel to the place. Not by a long shot. Then there’s the gushing over the integration of the new and old architecture. Moving from the new building through the glass tunnel to the castle is like leaving one era and entering another. What utter nonsense. They call it spin in politics. There’s just nothing that ties these two buildings together. Nice try.

I did (perhaps I was desperate) happen to gain a new appreciation for John Singer Sargeant. Maybe he was the genius by comparison.

I particularly liked this Sargeant from 1922, a portrait of Mrs. G in some kind of Victorian burka. Lady had style. Those blue eyes staring directly out of the painting into the eyes of the admirer, a pale face surrounded by white. Gardner had had a stroke before this painting was done, and she died two years later.

Mrs Gardner in White (watercolor on paper)

El Jaleo (1882, Oil on canvas)

There is so much movement in this painting, that one would almost expect it to come alive – or at least to have rumblings of castanets, heels stomping the ground, the guitarist furiously strumming. Look at the one cat, head inclined toward the ceiling in some syncopated trance.

Harmony in Blue and Silver: Trouville, 1865

Finally, this beach scene from James Abbott Mc Neill Whistler. At first glance it appears as just three swatches of color across the canvas. Because of the angle it looks left to right, Sky. Sea. Sand. Then on closer examination the sand swatch turns out to be three swatches: darker to light to darker again. There’s a single sail in the sea, and a white-hatted man in the foreground for perspective. A simple painting, but much to be admired, with its calm sea. But wait…there are some breakers, silently rolling up on the beachhead.



Filed under Art

4 responses to “Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

  1. What a wonderful selection of paintings. 🙂

  2. Liz

    Why are you so grumpy?

  3. EL JALEO is one of my favorite paintings.

    Remember Richard Powers’ “Plowing the Dark,” and the discussion of Lescaux cave discoveries? How that had happened shortly before Sargent’s rendering, and how the markings on the cave wall in the paintings spoke so eloquently to the ancient,human need to tell its collective story? Most people look at that painting and think it’s only about flamenco music and dancing…

  4. You know, I’ve never read this one, Pat. And btw, its coming of 2 1/2 years since Powers released a new novel. Getting near time, I’d say.

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