Last week the long-anticipated Renzo Piano wing opened at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. For the first time in its history, the Gardner will have space for both temporary shows organized from the collection and exhibitions of contemporary art. Curator Oliver Tostmann, who I ran into at a gallery reception in DC this week, told me that he plans to
focus on singular masterpieces from the collection, borrowing work from other
museums to put the objects in context. His first exhibition centers on a work by Anders Zorn (February 18, 1860 – August 22, 1920), the artist who painted the full length portrait of Isabella Stewart Gardner that hangs prominently in the original section of the museum.
The backstory: While visiting the Gardners in Boston in February 1894, Anders Zorn made an etching of Mrs. Gardner, which neither of them considered to be a complete success. Later that year Zorn and his wife visited the Gardners in Venice, staying for several weeks as their guests in the Palazzo Barbaro. He attempted again to make a portrait of Mrs. Gardner, but continued to struggle with the task. One evening, Mrs. Gardner stepped out into the balcony to see what was happening outside, and as she came back into the drawing-room, pushing the French windows open, Zorn exclaimed (according to Morris Carter): “Stay just as you are! That is the way I want to paint you.” He went instantly for his materials, and then and there the portrait was begun. (Source: Richard Lingner, "Isabella Stewart Gardner in Venice," in Eye of the Beholder, edited by Alan Chong et al. (Boston: ISGM and Beacon Press, 2003): 215.)
Here are images of three other Zorn's in the collection at the Gardner Museum.
BONUS VIDEO: Shot in Zorn's charming country house in Sweden (now a museum), the video includes images of his collections and his log cabin studio.
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