The review in the travel guide of “things to do in Boston” suggests that if given two days, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts is a must. If, however, you only have two hours, then the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is the stop. Little is known about the palace that stands across from the MOFA, outside of the inner circle of arts, but with a strong cult following, this museum has something for everyone. This counter-institution provides one with an intriguing look into the life of the “queen” of Boston’s Fenns of 1902. The palace, operating as a museum since the beginning of the 20th century, is dark, dank, and stuffed with clutter. There is not a naked wall, a cleaned desktop or empty corner to be found throughout the hallowed halls.
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s preeminent collection contains more than 2,500 paintings, sculptures, tapestries, furniture, manuscripts, rare books and decorative arts. It also offers classes for adults and students, community events, walks through expansive gardens and performances in the Calderwood Hall.
Intrigue surrounds the museum as in the early morning hours of March 18, 1990, a pair of thieves disguised as Boston police officers entered the Gardner Museum and stole thirteen works of art.
Thieves gained access into the Museum by posing as Boston police officers and stating that they were responding to a call. The guard on duty broke protocol and allowed them entry through the Museum’s security door.
Once inside, the thieves asked that the guard come around from behind the desk, claiming that they recognized him and that there was a warrant out for his arrest. The guard walked away from the desk and away from the only alarm button. The guard was told to summon the other guard on duty to the security desk, which he did. The thieves then handcuffed both guards and took them into the basement where they were secured to pipes and their hands, feet, and heads duct taped. The two guards were placed 40 yards away from each other in the basement.
The next morning, the security guard arriving to relieve the two night guards discovered that the Museum had been robbed and notified the police and director Anne Hawley.
The stolen works include: Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee and A Lady and Gentleman in Black both from 1633 as well as and a Self Portrait from 1634. Only a blank wall remains where the most valuable stolen work of art, Vermeer’s The Concert (1658–1660) hung.
In 1919, Isabella Stewart Gardner suffered the first of a series of strokes and died five years later, on July 17, 1924. Her will created an endowment of $1 million and outlined stipulations for the support of the museum, including that the permanent collection not be altered.