Gardner's First Artist-in-Residence

John Singer Sargent, a close friend of Isabella's, was the first artist to live and work at the Museum. He found creative inspiration from the masterpieces within its walls.

Scroll to begin

Patron

Isabella Stewart Gardner supported contemporary artists throughout her lifetime. She met celebrated portrait painter John Singer Sargent in London through their mutual friend, author Henry James, in 1886. Two years later, he painted her portrait. Over the course of their 38-year friendship, Isabella acquired 61 of Sargent's paintings, drawings, watercolors, and sculptural reliefs.

John Singer Sargent (American, 1856-1928), Isabella Stewart Gardner, 1888.

Artist

Sargent painted a variety of subjects, but is best known for his portraits of Gilded Age robber barons and society ladies. He lived and worked in Paris and London, but made several trips to Boston and New York for American commissions. He made one such trip in 1903, shortly after Isabella Stewart Gardner opened her new museum, Fenway Court, to the public.

Sarah Choate Sears (American, 1858-1935), John Singer Sargent Drawing Ethel Barrymore, 1903.

Residency

In April 1903, Sargent accepted Isabella's invitation to stay at Fenway Court. During his month-long residency, Sargent lived in a small, first-floor apartment adjacent to the Courtyard (now the MacKnight Room) and set up a studio in the Gothic Room on the third floor.

Macknight Room, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston. Photo: Sean Dungan.

... I again seize the typewriter to tell you that my thoughts are often at the Palazzo, sometimes in the clear-sounding court, sometimes in the boudoir, or in the Gothic Room. They follow you about and have taken permanent abode at Fenway Court—and are very happy to be there.

— John Singer Sargent to Isabella Stewart Gardner

Gothic Room

Sargent painted five portraits in the Museum's galleries, fulfilling Isabella's hope that her collection be a source of creative inspiration. The most celebrated of these paintings is the double portrait of Isabella's dear friend, the poet Gretchen Osgood Warren, and her daughter Rachel.

John Singer Sargent (American, 1856-1928), Mrs. Fiske Warren (Gretchen Osgood) and her Daughter Rachel, 1903, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Gift of Mrs. Rachel Warren Barton and Emily L. Ainsley Fund.

  • John Singer Sargent painted this watercolor sketch of Isabella in the Courtyard. She later installed it in the Yellow Room.

    John Singer Sargent (American, 1856-1925), Mrs. Gardner at Fenway Court, 1903.

  • As with the watercolor of Isabella, Sargent chose the Courtyard for the backdrop of this portrait of Mrs. A. Lawrence Rotch (Margaret Randolph).

    John Singer Sargent (American, 1856-1925), Mrs. A. Lawrence Rotch, 1903. Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska, Lent Anonymously, L-1987.5.

  • Sargent's residency at Fenway Court overlapped with Isabella's 63rd birthday. He painted this portrait of their mutual friend, composer Charles Martin Loeffler, and presented it to her as a gift. It now hangs in the Yellow Room.

    John Singer Sargent (American, 1856-1925), Charles Martin Loeffler, 1903.

  • Painted in the Gothic Room, Mrs. Charles Pelham Curtis (Ellen Sears Amory Anderson) rests her hand on one of Isabella's 17th century Tuscan gilded walnut armchairs.

    John Singer Sargent (American, 1856-1925), Mrs. Charles Pelham Curtis (Ellen Sears Amory Anderson), 1903. Gift of Sally Cary Curtis Iselin in memory of Charles Pelham Curtis, Portland Museum of Art, Maine.

  • Several artworks in the Gothic Room are visible in the portrait of Mrs. Fiske Warren (Gretchen Osgood) and her daughter Rachel, including angel candlesticks and the chair in which Gretchen is seated. The tender cheek-to-cheek pose mirrors the Italian Renaissance Madonna and Child sculpture on a credenza behind them.

    John Singer Sargent (American, 1856-1925), Mrs. Fiske Warren (Gretchen Osgood) and her Daughter Rachel, 1903. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Gift of Mrs. Rachel Warren Barton and Emily L. Ainsley Fund.

  • John Singer Sargent (American, 1856 - 1925), Mrs. Fiske Warren (Gretchen Osgood) and Her Daughter Rachel (detail), 1903. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Gift of Mrs. Rachel Warren Barton and Emily L. Ainsley Fund.

    From Life to Still Life

    Carefully posed in the Gothic Room, the mother and daughter perch on 17th century Italian chairs that Isabella purchased in Florence. Their pose mirrors that of the Virgin and Child in the sculpture behind them by the workshop of Italian Renaissance artist Lorenzo Ghiberti. Click through these slides to see object details of the portrait.

  • In the Painting

    After

    John Singer Sargent (American, 1856 - 1925), Mrs. Fiske Warren (Gretchen Osgood) and Her Daughter Rachel (detail), 1903. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Gift of Mrs. Rachel Warren Barton and Emily L. Ainsley Fund

  • In the Painting

    John Singer Sargent (American, 1856 - 1925), Mrs. Fiske Warren (Gretchen Osgood) and Her Daughter Rachel (detail), 1903. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Gift of Mrs. Rachel Warren Barton and Emily L. Ainsley Fund

Today

After John Singer Sargent's stay at the Museum, Isabella continued to welcome some of the most creative painters, performers, scholars, and writers of her time to stay at Fenway Court. Today, the Museum honors this legacy by inviting artists to live, think, and work at the Museum each year. Just as Isabella felt that contemporary artists could learn from the old masters she collected, our Artists-in-Residence and Neighborhood Salon Luminaries help our curators and current audiences see her collection with fresh eyes.

Artist-in-Residence James Prosek in the Museum's Courtyard, 2018.