The Renzo Piano-designed wing stands a respectful distance behind the Venetian palazzo-style museum

In her will Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840-1924) stipulated that her museum, which she founded in 1903 and where she idiosyncratically installed her collection of fine and decorative art, remain largely unaltered. A copper-clad, four-storey-high building where a coach house formerly stood was never part of her vision, but this 70,000 sq. ft extension has been added to the museum that bears her name. Due to open on 19 January, the wing has been designed by the Pritzker Prize-winning Italian architect Renzo Piano and has cost $118m…

“For the first time we will have a real exhibition space to focus on certain objects in our collection,” says Oliver Tostmann, the museum’s research fellow, who is due to become the collection’s curator in April. He plans to select one or two objects from the collection each year and show them alongside objects from other institutions in the new space. The opening exhibitions will commemorate the 20th anniversary of the museum’s artist-in-residence programme.

Gardner was able to build a museum for her growing art collection when she inherited $2.1m from her father in 1891. He made his wealth in the Irish linen trade and later in mining investments. Gardner’s peers—and rivals for work by Titian, Botticelli and Michelangelo—included the likes of JP Morgan, Henry Clay Frick and Andrew Mellon, or the “squillionaires”, as she called them. “I’ve got the picture habit. It’s as bad as the whisky habit,” she confessed in 1896.


Erica Cooke
The Art Newspaper