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Vermeer’s The Concert
In 1891, Isabella’s father died, leaving her an estate valued at $1.75 million (over 45 million in today’s dollars). With this windfall, she and Jack Gardner made the decision to spend her inheritance on an art collection. Travelling in Europe again, one of her first acquisitions was Vermeer’s The Concert, purchased at a Paris auction in 1891 for $6,000. Isabella outbid representatives from the Musée du Louvre in Paris and the National Gallery in London. Her acquisition of this painting gave her immediate recognition as a serious collector—and confidence in her taste.
Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait, Age 23
In 1896, advised by Bernard Berenson, Isabella Gardner acquired Rembrandt’s magnificent self-portrait. Berenson wrote to her: “I am sending you a photograph of one of the most precious pictures in existence…The masterpiece you can have for the comparatively small sum of £3000…Cable me directly you have made up your mind about it…‘Yes Rembrandt’ or ‘No Rembrandt’ will do.” With this acquisition, she and Jack decided to create a museum to house their growing collection. During their next visit to Venice in 1897, they began collecting architectural elements for their future museum.
Also in 1896, again advised by Berenson, Mrs. Gardner bought Titian’s Rape of Europa for a world-record price of £20,000; from that point on, she directed her attention to Italian paintings. While waiting for the picture to arrive, she wrote to Berenson, “I suppose the picture-habit (which I seem to have) is as bad as the morphine or whiskey one—and it does cost.” When the Rape of Europa was finally installed, she wrote that she was “…drinking myself drunk with Europa and then sitting for hours…thinking and dreaming about her. Every inch of paint in the picture seems full of joy.”