The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum was founded by the art-obsessed woman for which it was named for. It is one of the most unique museums in Boston. After marrying Jack Gardner in 1874, Isabella and her husband traveled to Europe where their love of art-collecting sparked. They were inspired to travel more extensively, searching the world for precious artifacts. Though most of their collection was acquired during early trips to Europe, they also traveled to and collected work from the Middle East and Asia.
When their house in Boston's Back Bay became to small for their growing collection and after her husband's sudden death, Isabella worked with architect Willard. T Sears to create this museum, which would open her once private art collection to the public. After purchasing the building in the Fenway neighborhood, Isabella worked for years to install her art and make sure everything was up to snuff with her personal aesthetic before the museum would open in 1903.
In the name of art-making, I've decided to not only share these photos but also share my process of taking them and talk about some of the challenges I faced shooting in this very striking and unique location.
When visiting the museum, it is clear that Isabella's classic touch has been preserved through all these years. You get the sense that everything is just how she left it. Between the arrangements of the galleries to the stunning courtyard, which is the only part of the museum in which photography is allowed.
This museum posed a lot of challenges for me as a photographer since I was limited to only shooting in the courtyard. In addition, I shot these photos on a Monday afternoon in the Summer, which meant there were many people out enjoying the art and getting in my shots.
I spent most of my time waiting for my fellow museum-goers to pass before I could grab the shot that would capture the empty look I was looking for. In such a small space, this was even more difficult to do.
I also found the lighting to be difficult to work with at first. The courtyard is chained off, so you are not actually allowed to stand in the sunny part of the room and must shoot from the shadows. This made it difficult to find the right balance of exposure.
However, the lighting issue led me to realize that these photographs would be more effective in black and white. The stark differences between light and dark became a major element of the photographs instead of an editing nuisance.
Because the courtyard is so small and getting wide shots without any people in them required a lot of time only to take photos that already existed somewhere on the internet, I decided to begin focusing small.
The museum is as much about the details as it is the architecture and since I couldn't photograph any of the galleries, I did what I could with the sculptures in the garden.
Getting up close really allowed me to add more texture to the series as a whole and better represents what the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum stands for. This place is not only about one woman's huge collection of artwork, it's about her love and dedication to each little piece in her collection.
The creation of this museum required care and love for the art, which is apparent as you walk through the carefully maintained galleries and through the meticulously manicured courtyard. It is a lovely place to visit and truly a shining gem of historical Boston.