The Attic (a name which commemorates our first physical location) is, first and foremost, a site for the research students of the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester: a virtual community which aims to include all students, be they campus-based and full-time, or distance-learning and overseas. But we welcome contributions from students of museum studies - and allied subject areas - from outside the School and from around the world. Here you will find a lot of serious stuff, like exhibition and research seminar reviews, conference alerts and calls for papers, but there's also some 'fluff'; the things that inspire, distract and keep us going. After all, while we may be dead serious academic types, we're human too.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Historical Hot or Not II

Last week, we encountered much debate regarding the aesthetic appeal of Henry Wellcome, founder of the Wellcome Collection. This week, we turn to a female collector, the fin-de-siecle Bostonian eccentric, Isabella Stewart Gardner. Her mansion, crammed to the brim with Old Masters, Impressionists, and decorative arts, was left in her will along with an endownment and stipulations for keeping it open as a museum. Kitty corner from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the collection has fallen victim to some high-profile (and still unsolved) art crimes, as well as the misguided architectural interventions of Renzo Piano.

All that being as it may, how do we feel about this lovely lady?
Isabella Stewart Gardner
John Singer Sargent, 1888
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston

As Mrs Gardner was such a high-energy person (which you can see from her intense gaze and open mouth, as though speaking), the portrait took 9 attempts to get right. The low neckline and provocative va-va-voom curves of the artistic philathropist led to her husband asking that it be kept out of public display. Now that they have both been deceased for nearly 100 years, we can ogle all we want - but do we want to?

6 comments:

Mike Simpson said...

Not hot. Too stern and grumpy. A google image search brings up photos of her, slightly older, looking sterner and grumpier.
In any case, positioning her against that wallpaper symmetrically makes it look like she has some giant, weird, Princess Amidala-style hairdo.

Elee said...

My only response is that this is a deeply weird portrait. Her head and body look like they are from different people!

Amy said...

The whole bustle arrangement really doesn't 'work' from this angle, does it? Looks like she's being pushed and pulled in different directions by some unseen force. Deeply uncomfortable I suspect.

Museumist said...

Not the best portrait, but from what I know about her, I totally dig Isabella Stewart Gardner. Plus, her museum is the site of one of the greatest art heists of all time. Oh, did I mention it was the 20th anniversary of said heist, how appropriate! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isabella_Stewart_Gardner_Museum

Jenny said...

I was going to comment on the impressive waistline though, and I suspect it is to blame for the severe look!!!

Elee said...

Yes, Jenny. That could also account for the mad staring eyes. Any tighter and they'd be on stalks!