The Grand Tour in Venice - Page 55

Fig. 30 Anders Zorn,
Isabella Stewart
Gardner, 1894, oil on
canvas, 91 x 66 cm,
Boston, Isabella Stewart
Gardner Museum.
Isabella Stewart Gardner’s first visit to
Venice took place in May and June of 1884,
when she and her husband Jack stopped
off there on her return from a long trip to
Japan and India: “Strange morning.  The sea
like oil-and boats all yellow and red sails.  An idle
delicious looking at it-i.e. the sails, the strange
sea, and Venice afar off”, she recorded in
her diary. After two-days quarantine, the
Gardners “steamed up to Venice through
the lagoons” and moved into the Hotel
Europa. The first week was largely spent
shopping, buying ices at Florians, taking
gondola rides and visiting the Lido and San
Marco where she “saw pigeons feed at 2”. The
next few weeks were spent in a whirlwind of
sightseeing including a visit to San Giorgio
degli Schiavoni with the American painter
Ralph Curtis where she ascended a ladder to
inspect the Carpaccios, as well as admiring
the Tintorettos in the Scuola San Rocco,
the Veroneses in San Sebastiano and the
Bellini altarpiece in the Frari church and
taking a trip to Padua to see the Giottos in
the Scrovegni Chapel. In addition to the
visits to churches, there are references to trips
to bric-à-brac shops and she also attended
soirées given by Katherine Bronson, who
ran a famous literary and artistic salon in the
Palazzo Alvisi. It was through Ralph Curtis
that she made some of her first purchases of
works of art and from his parents that she
was later to rent the Palazzo Barbaro during
the summer months between 1890 and 1897. 
Here Mrs Gardner, who was caught flinging
open the windows of the Palazzo Barbaro
in Anders Zorn’s wonderfully impetuous
portrait of her (fig. 30), quickly became
the acknowledged Queen of AmericanVenetian society attracting to her court an
international circle of artists, writers and
musicians including Sargent and Henry
James (see fig. 27). It was also in Venice that
she cut her teeth as a collector, acquiring a
number of small-scale objects from the dealer
Richetti at the Palazzo Garzoni. Later she
was to build her own Venetian palazzo in
Boston, now the Gardner Museum, with a
Venetian courtyard (fig. 31) composed of
fragments of architectural salvage, some of
which came from the Ca’ d’ Oro.  


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