The Art of Scandal: The Life and Times of Isabella Stewart Gardner

Douglass Shand-Tucci, Author
Douglass Shand-Tucci, Author HarperCollins Publishers $27.5 (368p) ISBN 978-0-06-018643-2
Reviewed on: 12/01/1997
Release date: 12/01/1997
Paperback - 368 pages - 978-0-06-092977-0
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Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840-1925) left her mark on Boston with Fenway Court, the museum that bears her name. Always controversial and flamboyant, the New York-born Gardner used her vast inheritance and that of her husband, Jack, to buy paintings, chosen with art historian Bernard Berenson, of such old masters as Raphael, Rembrandt and Botticelli, as well as classic architectural fragments, which she had installed in the Venetian-style palazzo she designed and built in Boston. Thirty years after the last Gardner biography, the time is ripe for a new interpretation, but this book by historian Shand-Tucci (Boston Bohemia, 1881-1900) falls short on detailing his subject's life and instead focuses on her progressive views on Jews, independent women, blacks, Irish and, especially, gays. The fact that Gardner's circle included Henry James, John Singer Sargent, George Santayana and others to whom the author ascribes an ambiguous sexual orientation supports his thesis that Gardner, despite her anti-suffragist views, was a ""liberated woman,"" more like those of our late 20th century than those of her own era. This view piques curiosity about her that, unfortunately, is left unsatisfied by the author's celebratory style. Photos. (Jan.)
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