Visiting the Isabella Stewart Gardner

I visited the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum on Sunday for the first time in more than 20 years. I recalled it as being a wonderfully intimate collection and have very fond memories of past visits.

That wasn’t the cast this time. I felt seriously cramped and unwelcome. From the tiny entryway to the policy on photography to the – shall we say robust? – security to the dim lighting it was kind of a drag.

As soon as we arrived I was asked to check my camera bag – which was a bummer. The courtyard alone would have been wonderful to shoot. The blanket prohibition on photography (as opposed to the flexible approach taken by the MFA) limited my experience of the afternoon.

Now I know the Gardner was robbed 19 years ago – but it wasn’t a visitor in the middle of a Mother’s Day afternoon. I got the feeling that every time I lingered too long I got the hairy eyeball – and being there with kids only magnified the feeling. At one point, we were leaning in to have a better look at an item and were asked – despite the acknowledgement that it was difficult to see – to please not lean in to look. . .

Maybe if there was some lighting things would be easier to see? The lighting leaves a lot to be desired. In some cases it’s really dim and in other’s it creates massive glare.

I’d gone with my children in the high hopes of sharing with them some of the wonderful memories I had of visiting the Gardner when I was in college. Unfortunately – as with many things – those memories turned out to be better than reality.


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