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What Isabella Wanted

Isabella Stewart Gardner Builds a Museum



Neal Porter Books

Holiday House Publishing

(pub.9.7.2021) 40 pages

Author: Candace Fleming

Illustrator: Matthew Cordell

Character: Isabella Stewart Gardner

Overview: "For years, the indomitable Isabella Stewart Gardner searched the world for magnificent artwork and filled her home with a truly unique collection, with the aim of turning it into a museum, which she established in 1903.

Isabella always did things her own way. One day she'd wear baseball gear to the symphony, the next, she'd be seen strolling down the street with zoo lions. It was no surprise that she was very particular about how she arranged her exhibits. They were not organized historically, stylistically, or by artist. Instead, they were arranged based on the connections Isabella felt toward the art, a connection she hoped to encourage in her visitors.

For years, her museum delighted generations of Bostonians and visitors with the collections arranged exactly as she wanted. But in 1990, a spectacular burglary occurred when two thieves disguised as police officers stole thirteen paintings, valued at $500 million, including a Rembrandt and a Vermeer. They have yet to be recovered, though a $10 million reward is still being offered for their safe return." Tantalizing taste:

"New Years Day, 1903. The grand opening.

Visitors circled around her courtyard,

and through her second- and third-floor rooms,

feasting on champagne, doughnuts,

and art -

so much art-

on every wall, on every space,

visitors lingering,


wandering around and

among her objects in awe.

Isabella followed after them,


'Don't touch! Don't touch!'

Didn't they know that everything

was carefully arranged,

exactly as Isabella wanted."

And something more: The back matter explains that "It's my pleasure" was her "motto. The words, written in French - "C'est mon plaisir' - are even carved above the entryway to the Italian style palazzo she built and filled with art...There she lived among the objects of her collection. Some of these objects are works of art, but others are things she gathered and used during her life - letters and journals, dishes and teacups, dried leaves and seashells. All are given equal value, great art displayed next to bric-a-brac with no distinction between them... they are all about Isabella and her connections to and feelings toward the art."


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