Leafing Through Isabella’s Travel Album: Spain and Portugal, Volume II, 1888

Learn about the prominent photographers and booksellers that produced the prints purchased by Isabella throughout her travels in Europe and read how the replica album was made; now on view in The Fellow Wanderer: Isabella’s travel albums exhibition at the Fenway Gallery.

share this:

In a globally dominant Europe, the nineteenth century was an exciting time for artists, commercial photographers and wealthy travelers. Isabella Stewart Gardner and her husband Jack traveled the world between 1867 and 1895. On these trips, Isabella collected photographs and collaged them into albums to document her interests abroad.

The top half of a page from a travel album with a black and white photograph of thirteen people around a dining table. The page is annotated in ink in Isabella Stewart Gardner’s hand “Seville, had lunch in Club Tent at Feria Grounds. Thursday April 19.”

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston (v.1.a.4.16). Isabella kept her travel albums in the Vatichino.

Isabella Stewart Gardner and Jack Gardner at a lunch party in Seville, Spain, from Isabella Stewart Gardner’s Travel Album: Spain and Portugal, Volume II, 1888, page 13.

Noble photographic mediums flourished rapidly in Italy allowing artists to sell their photographs of monuments and famous works of art as souvenirs suitable for the affluent tourist.¹ In Rome, Anglo-American artists convened in the “English Ghetto” surrounding the Piazza di Spagna and Caffè Greco. It was common for the urbane traveler to purchase an entire city series or select individual photographs and have them bound together. Isabella purchased individual prints across Europe and collaged them on three of her parchment-covered albums commissioned from booksellers in Italy.

 A page from an album, taller than it is wide, with a collaged Spanish coat of arms in the upper left corner and a black and white photograph of a gathering of people on a street in Seville for a religious procession. The page is annotated in Isabella Stewart Gardner’s hand: Las Espana Spain 1888.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston (v.1.a.4.16). Isabella kept her travel albums in the Vatichino.

Isabella Stewart Gardner (American, 1840–1924), Travel Album: Spain and Portugal, Volume II, 1888. Parchment-covered album including collected photographs, found papers, and pen and ink annotations, page 1

Her album Spain and Portugal, Volume II, has ninety-one pages filled with printed ephemera, ink lettering, and photographs encompassing travels through the Iberian Peninsula. For the exhibition, Fellow Wanderer: Isabella Stewart Gardner’s Travel Albums, the Museum commissioned a facsimile binding for visitors to page through in the gallery. In anticipation of reproducing it, conservation staff examined multiple albums and closely studied a volume from 1894 with a broken binding where albumen prints of palazzi, piazze e musei from Alinari & Cook, Roma are abundant. Isabella visited Rome that year, yet likely purchased the prints beforehand since by 1891 the Alinari brothers were thriving in Florence.

The open cover of a travel album without its interior pages. Photographs are collaged on the interior sides with pen and ink annotations in Isabella Stewart Gardner’s hand.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston (v.1.b.4.4).Isabella kept her travel albums in the Vatichino.

Isabella Stewart Gardner (American, 1840–1924) and Naya Studio (Italian photographic studio, about 1857–1918), Travel Album: France, Great Britain, Germany, and Italy, 1894, showing the broken binding

Inspecting the broken binding helped Museum staff learn about photographers practicing in Italy and confirmed the bookbinder’s process.² Case bindings, employed in edition binding, allow the binder to work off the book; assembling the textblock separate from its covers. The inside of the album case has a C. Naya (Carlo Naya) bookplate from Saint Mark’s Square, Venice, suggesting the album was commissioned and bound prior to Isabella’s trip to Venice. When she visited in 1894, his shop was run by his widow.³ Isabella likely purchased the album for Spain and Portugal, Volume II in Rome through the bookbinder E. Andersen considering the spine has ‘E. Andersen Roma’ gold-stamped across it. A travel handbook published in 1879 lists Andersen as a practicing bookbinder.⁴

The omission of her personal beliefs, the inclusion of lodging, conversational proverbs in foreign languages, historical facts, and speculations framed by ancient views of Europe; support Isabella used the albums as her ​​travelogs.⁵ Isabella may have seen the work of many photographers such as J. Laurent y Minier (Madrid), E. Beauchy (Seville), J.E. Puig (Barcelona) and Carlo Naya (Venice) at the 1888 Barcelona Universal Exposition.⁶ While she did not record her attendance, Isabella was likely one of the 2 million participants at the first World’s Fair in Spain. On page thirteen of Volume II, Isabella noted a “lunch party in club tent at Feria Grounds,” the site of the Feria de Abril de Sevilla, omitting her attendance again.⁷ But photographs from the previous spreads illustrate corridas de toros (bullfighting), and holy week celebrations—typical entertainment early on at the Seville Fair. She also records she was met by painter Ralph W. Curtis, who sketched her during the trip.

A sketch of Isabella Stewart Gardner’s head with a heart and a dagger and the words “Sevilla 20th April 1888 Mrs. Gardner”

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston (ARC.001247)

Ralph Wormeley Curtis (American, 1854–1922), Isabella Stewart Gardner in Seville, Spain, 20 April 1888. Graphite and ink on paper , 16 x 12.8 cm (6 5/16 x 5 in.)

To reproduce the album—adapted for use in the gallery—floating boards were necessary to counteract the anticipated warping of the covering. Other adjustments include the use of synthetic adhesives to minimize moisture, and page attachment reinforcement and other alterations to withstand handling from hundreds of visitors. The first step was the textblock preparation—known as forwarding—and requires sewing, rounding and backing of the spine, edge decoration, and endband construction. The second set of steps involve laminating the covering boards, case construction, and casing-in. Tooling decorations is part of the finishing process which can be done before turning in the edges. A thin yet absorbent print was needed to replicate Isabella’s handwriting and pasted photographs in tandem. Chicago Albumen Works produced the outstanding quality prints making up the textblock.

At a pivotal point in her life, Isabella took to traveling, filling the pages of twenty-eight albums now admired as artistic studies. Their content exudes Isabella’s reputable curatorial instincts reminiscent of her Museum in Boston. By replicating Volume II, the Museum learned more about booksellers practicing in Italy and the travelers they serviced during the early 20th century. Join us in flipping through the replica album in the gallery and explore the collection influenced by Isabella’s albums.

You might also like

You might also like

Gift at the Gardner

Fellow Wanderer: Isabella Stewart Gardner’s Travel Albums

Visit the Exhibition

Fellow Wanderer: Isabella Stewart Gardner’s Travel Albums

Read More on the Blog

John Singer Sargent, Isabella Stewart Gardner, and Spain

¹Developing photographic mediums in the 19th century include daguerreotype and glass plates from the French, calotype from the English, and Italy’s very own photogenic drawings.

²suggesting all three albums containing travels in the Iberian Peninsula were fabricated as case bindings.

³the firm was run by his widow, Ida Lessiak, and managed by Tomasso Filippi.

⁴See Handbook for Travellers: Central Italy and Rome handbook published by K. Baedeker. This is only an implication however, since a binder’s receipt or any recording of the transaction is not reflected in the archives.

⁵Speculations include noting where the protagonist from a popular novel of the time, Gil Blas, was detained in El Alcázar

⁶Antoni Esplugas Gual, Josep (known as J.E. Puig) based in Calle Escudillers, Barcelona; won third class medal for his portraits at the 1888 Barcelona Universal Exposition. The Barcelona Universal Exposition took place from Apr 8 – Dec 9, 1888

⁷the first official poster announcing the fair was published in 1890 after Isabella’s visit