Chasing Beauty: The Life of Isabella Stewart Gardner

HarperAudio. Mar. 2024. 15:57 hrs. ISBN 9780063356849. $27.99. BIOG
Isabella Stewart Gardner was born into a wealthy New York–based family in 1840. Her family traveled extensively in Europe, and she met the sister of her future husband when she attended a prestigious Parisian school. She married Boston Brahmin Jack Gardner in 1860. Narrator Maggi-Meg Reed describes how flamboyant Isabella struggled to gain a foothold in Boston’s elite society. Her married life was marked by tragedy, including the death of her only child. She and Jack traveled extensively as a balm for her melancholy, and she soon developed a talent for identifying and acquiring fine art. Gardner’s privileged circumstances allowed her to purchase paintings and other artworks, including rare books, furniture, porcelain, and architectural facades. To display her remarkable collection, she eventually built Fenway Court, a space that later became known as the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Dykstra (Clover Adams) offers a well-researched account of Gardner’s life, drawing upon correspondence between Gardner and many well-known artists and creators, including John Singer Sargent and William and Henry James.
VERDICT Reed’s elegant delivery and diction enhance Dykstra’s delightful portrait of a visionary Gilded Age art collector. Recommended for art history buffs and those who enjoyed Douglass Shand-Tucci’s The Art of Scandal.
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