Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

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Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum or Fenway Court is a museum in the Fenway-Kenmore neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, located within walking distance of the Museum of Fine Arts and near the Back Bay Fens. The museum has a collection of over 2,500 works of European, Asian and American art, including paintings, sculpture, tapestries, and decorative arts. It frequently hosts exhibits of historic and contemporary art.

History
In 1896, Isabella Stewart Gardner hired architect Willard T. Sears to design the museum. The museum was established in 1903 by Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840–1924), a wealthy patron of the arts. It is housed in a building designed to evoke the Venetian Palazzo Barbaro. It is a common misconception that the building was brought to America from Venice and reconstructed. It was built from the ground up in Boston out of new materials, incorporating numerous architectural fragments from European Gothic and Renaissance structures. The antique elements are seamlessly worked into the design of the turn-of-the-century building. Special tiles were custom designed for the floors, modern concrete was used for some of the structural elements, and antique capitals sit atop modern columns. The interior garden courtyard is covered by a glass roof, with steel support structure original to the building. The museum has a small but outstanding collection of paintings, sculpture, furniture, textiles, ceramics, prints, drawings, manuscripts, rare books, jewelry, and Japanese screens. It is particularly rich in Italian Renaissance paintings, as well as in 19th-century works by John Singer Sargent and James McNeill Whistler. The first Matisse to enter an American collection is housed there. The Gardner Museum is much admired for the intimate atmosphere in which its works of art are displayed and its flower-filled courtyard. Most of the art pieces are unlabeled, and the generally dim lighting is more akin to a private house than a modern art museum. There is additionally a performance hall in which a piano and extra seating are located, and concerts are held there most Sundays from September through May. Gardner began collecting seriously after she received a large inheritance from her father in 1891. Her purchase of Vermeer's The Concert at auction in Paris in 1892 was her first major acquisition. In 1894, Bernard Berenson offered his services in helping her acquire a Botticelli. Berenson helped acquire nearly 70 works of art for her collection. During Gardner's lifetime, she welcomed artists, performers, scholars to Fenway Court to draw inspiration from the rich historic collection and dazzling Venetian setting, including John Singer Sargent, Charles Martin Loeffler and Ruth St. Denis, among others. Today, the museum’s vibrant contemporary Artist-in-Residence program, courtyard garden displays, concerts, and innovative education programs continue Isabella Gardner’s legacy. To honor their founder, the museum offers free admission and occasional special events for anyone named Isabella. And as of January 1, 2009, everyone will receive free admission to the museum on his or her birthday.

Art theft of 1990
Shortly after midnight on the morning of March 18, 1990, thieves disguised as police officers talked their way into the museum. They handcuffed the two on-duty security guards out of sight and then stole thirteen works of art valued at over $500 million, including The Concert , one of Johannes Vermeer's thirty-five known paintings, and three works by Rembrandt van Rijn, including his only seascape, The Storm on the Sea of Galilee , and a small self-portrait print. Also stolen were a series of drawings by Edgar Degas and additional works by Édouard Manet and Govaert Flinck, as well as two objects: a Chinese Ku, or beaker, and a finial from a Napoleonic flag. It is considered the biggest art theft—and property theft—in history; the crime remains unsolved. The museum still displays the paintings' empty frames in their original locations according to the strict provisions of Gardner's will, which instructed that the collection be maintained unchanged. In late 2005, as part of a concerted effort to enhance security, the museum hired a former Homeland Security official who helped to rebuild security at Logan Airport after the events of September 11, 2001. MAC Systems and General Electric also conducted a large-scale and comprehensive upgrade to the facility's access control system. More upgrades are in the works to ensure that the events of March 18, 1990 are never repeated. A reward of $5 million is offered for information leading to the return of the works of art in good condition. In the 1990s, two associates of Boston gang leader James "Whitey" Bulger, with arms smuggling links to the IRA, claimed to have access to the paintings. One has since died and the other is now refusing to talk to investigators. In 1974, the IRA stole nineteen paintings, which included a Vermeer, from Russborough House near Dublin, Ireland as a bargaining attempt for four imprisoned IRA members. The theft is the subject of a 2005 documentary called Stolen , which in a slightly different version had earlier appeared on Court TV. Former Scotland Yard detective Dick Ellis and police informant Paul Hendry, interviewed for the film, both believe an IRA faction has the paintings. The theft was referenced in The Simpsons episode American History X-cellent, in which one of the stolen works is found in the collection of Mr.Burns. The 1999 novel The Music Lesson by Katharine Weber proposes an explanation for the theft involving the IRA. Among Thieves, a legal thriller by David Hosp inspired by the theft, was published in 2010.

Expansion
Isabella Stewart Gardner stipulated that the current collection must remain in the state it was in upon her death, with everything arranged according to her stipulations, or it will revert to the ownership of Harvard University. However, the museum from time to time has organized temporary exhibitions, although a court has moved at least one exhibition from the Tapestry Room to the fourth floor of the palazzo to abide by the will. On November 29, 2004, museum management announced this exhibition program would grow, and the museum will construct a new building to accommodate growth outside the original Gardner collection. Renzo Piano's firm is serving as the expansion's architects. In March 2009 the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court approved the deviation from the will to allow the construction of the controversial new building to move forward. The new building will triple special exhibition space, create new office and cafe space, and relocate the museum's main entrance. The planned completion date is 2012, and will cost $118 million. The Carriage House was torn down to make room for the new space.

Building Activity

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