THE ART OF SCANDAL by Douglass Shand-Tucci


The Life and Times of Isabella Stewart Gardner
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 A thoroughly readable biography--the first in 30 years--of the eclectic-minded collector, patron, and designer whose unique legacy, an art-filled Venetian palazzo in Boston's Fenway neighborhood, continues to inspire visitors to the present day. A fan of baseball and boxing, the bohemian Gardner, born in 1840 and living at the dawn of the media age, was able to use the negative response of a patriarchal society to female accomplishment for her own purpose--what the author calls ``the art of scandal.'' In her relationships with men other than her husband, Jack Gardner--the painter John Singer Sargent, and writers Henry James and Francis Crawford included--she scandalized Boston society. Crawford and Gardner, writes the author, were deeply, passionately intimate--soul mates, for sure- -but this need not suggest a sexual union, he says. In art collecting, Gardner found her vocation. In Paris in 1892 she purchased Vermeer's Le Concert for $6,000. Soon, with the help of Bernard Berenson, she added a major Botticelli and Titian's Rape of Europa. At the high point of her life (and this book) lies the building in 190001 of her museum/home, a whimsical pastiche whose construction incorporates such disparate elements as medieval choir stalls, architectural fragments, and Spanish tiles, all shipped from Europe. ``Mrs. Jack'' would fill Fenway Court--which featured a series of Venetian terraces opening onto a six-story courtyard domed in steel and glass, art and music galleries, an apartment on the top floor, even a private chapel- -with priceless paintings and decorative arts from East and West. Gardner, who bridged old and new worlds in her tastes, her tolerance for social outcasts such as Jews and homosexuals, displayed grace and independence. Art historian Shand-Tucci (Boston Bohemia, not reviewed, etc.) here succeeds in depicting her as fully three-dimensional, writing her life as an odyssey, ``a Kunstlerroman as the Germans call it, an `artist's novel' '' of literary, intellectual, artistic, and religious quest. (47 b&w, 4 color illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-06-018643-7
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1997


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