A Modern-Day Soiree at the Gardner Museum
Strolling through the Gardner Museum on any casual Saturday afternoon, one might wonder: What was it like when Isabella Stewart Gardner herself walked these halls? What was a fete hosted by Mrs. Gardner like, anyway? Did the invitation list warrant the abundance of chairs the woman owned? Were her guests as captivated by the courtyard as we are? Did they marvel at the art as we do? Were they just as amused as we are by the fireplace with unicorns and dragons battling on the mantle?
It might just be that a party at Gardner’s house would have gone a little something like the opening reception for the museum’s new “once-in-a-lifetime” exhibition, Off the Wall: Gardner and Her Masterpieces, for which masterpieces from Gardner’s collection have been temporarily moved to the Hostetter Gallery in the new wing while the palace undergoes roof work (thanks a lot, Blizzard of 2015). The repositioning literally offers guests the chance to see Gardner’s masterpieces, including Rembrandt’s self portrait and Anders Zorn’s beautiful painting of Isabella herself, in a new light.
The opening reception took guests from the old to the new, from music in the courtyard to a reading and dance performance in Calderwood Hall. Instead of hearing Nellie Melba, an Australian soprano who performed at Isabella’s home in 1905, guests on Tuesday enjoyed a vocal performance by Julia Bullock, who also performed from the Dutch Room Balcony. Instead of a reading by Lady Augusta Gregory, which took place in 1911, guests in 2016 were treated to a reading by writer Gregory Maguire (Wicked, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, After Alice). And also in Calderwood Hall, in place of a 1906 dance performance by Ruth St. Denis, dancers from the Boston Ballet performed three sections from Rodin, inspired by the artist’s sculptures.
Ah, so that’s what a party at Isabella’s house is like. Missed the reception? Consider Third Thursdays.
Off the Wall: Gardner and Her Masterpieces will be on view March 10 to August 15. For more info, visit gardnermuseum.org.