The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is my favorite place in Boston. The museum is the former home of Mrs. Gardner, who was a wealthy Bostonian during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. She and her husband traveled extensively, mingled with the "jet set" of the day, such as Henry James and artists Whistler, Sargent, and Anders Zorn. Mrs. Gardner had a keen eye for art, and a bottomless pocketbook, and this testament to Victorian extravagance is almost mind-numbing.
The building appears quite plain on the outside, but the inside is a maze of rooms jam packed with incredible art objects of every variety -- paintings, sculpture, furniture, textiles, ceramics, and architectural elements -- spanning 25 centuries. The Dutch Room is probably the most remarkable. A self-portrait by Rembrandt was Mrs. Gardner's first major purchase, and I literally stood there with my mouth hanging open. I have seen Rembrandts before, but this is the most remarkable one I have experienced. In 1990, a Vermeer, three Rembrandts and several other objects and paintings were stolen and have not yet been recovered. Since Mrs. Gardner stipulated that nothing in the home was to be changed after her death, the empty frames are still hanging, and are a sad reminder of this enormous loss.
The house is arranged around an Italian renaissance-style courtyard, which is elaborately embellished with marble columns, ancient sculpture, a Roman mosaic floor, and an abundance of plants and flowers. The benches around the courtyard provide a welcome resting place.
There is also a cafe, for which reservations are suggested. We didn't get a chance to eat there, but I bought the cookbook and the recipes are very tempting. The giftshop is available online, and I highly suggest buying a guide before visiting the museum. There is very little information posted in the galleries, since Mrs. Gardner wanted viewers to experience the art and not be distracted. The museum has an audioguide for $4, and I plan to try that next time.
There is parking available nearby for a fee, but the museum is easy to reach on the Green Line. Just get off at the Museum stop, cross Huntington, walk two blocks down Louis Prang Street, and the museum is on the left. Open 11am to 5pm Tuesday through Sunday, admission is free for those under 18, $10 for adults ($11 on weekends), $7 for seniors, and $5 for college students.