Isabella Stewart Gardner loved and collected photographs from an early age. She even had a camera and dabbled in the art herself. One of the photographers whose work she collected was Marian Hooper Adams—called Clover. Isabella displayed Clover’s photographs of historian George Bancroft and general Nelson A. Miles in the galleries of her museum.
Clover’s Friendship with Isabella
Although Clover was from Boston, she met Isabella in Washington D.C., where she and her husband historian Henry Adams lived for many years. The two women found they had a lot in common. They moved in similar social circles in Boston and on the North Shore of Massachusetts, loved dogs, and fashion. They loved to gossip over the latest English styles at parties in London, and Isabella introduced Clover to her Parisian dressmaker, Charles Frederick Worth.1They also shared a love for the arts, which Isabella cultivated in her art collection and museum and Clover with her photography.
In 1883, Clover began experimenting with photography and found she had an aptitude for it. New technologies like commercially available dry-plate negatives—which eliminated the need for dangerous chemicals and dark rooms—made photography more accessible to amateurs, including women.2
Clover excelled in portraits and photographed her neighbor George Bancroft behind his desk. Piled high with papers and books with a quill in hand, Clover captured the historian in his intellectual pursuits. She was pleased with the picture, as was her friend John Hays. He even advised the editor of Century—an illustrated monthly magazine—to use it on their cover.3
Clover pursued her art form, and her reputation grew along with her skill. In 1885, she photographed Nelson A. Miles, a friend and former Civil War general for the Union Army. Posed in profile with a star-studded flag artfully draped behind him, Clover’s dexterity with the gradation of light to dark is evident. Miles was also an acquaintance of Isabella’s, and she kept this photograph in the Presidents and Statesmen Case in the Long Gallery. Alongside it are memorabilia related to other American dignitaries and politicians.
Throughout her life, Clover experienced periods of depression. After her beloved father’s death in 1885, she was unable to recover. She died by suicide later that year at the age of 42. Her grief-stricken husband Henry rarely spoke of Clover after her death. However, he did commission a haunting memorial to his wife, designed by sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens and architect Stanford White. It stands above her burial site in Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington.
Despite her short life, Clover Adams’s photographic work lives on. You can find it in public collections like the Gardner and the Massachusetts Historical Society. Historians are sharing new research on many remarkable women artists often overlooked by museums. Isabella supported many women creative professionals and the Museum is committed to preserving and sharing their stories. You can read more about Clover in the recent biography Clover Adams: A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life by historian Natalie Dykstra.
1Natalie Dykstra, Clover Adams: A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life (New York, 2012), p. 99
2Dykstra, pp. 138-39.
3 Dykstra, pp. 162-63.