Inventing Isabella

Thursday, October 19, 2023 - January 15, 2024
Hostetter Gallery

John Singer Sargent ticket promotion with the Museum of Fine Arts exhibition, "Fashioned by Sargent"

The Exhibit Closed January 15, 2024

Throughout history, there have been women who defied expectations, and dared to be different. Join us as we explore how art, fashion, and photography shaped their personas and identities.

Isabella Stewart Gardner used art, fashion, and photography to cultivate her image. Though her name is on the Museum she founded, Isabella remains an enigmatic figure. As someone who often defied the expectations of her gender and class, many stories, scandals, and myths surrounded her during her lifetime and still do today.

Inventing Isabella unites many pictures of Isabella—from formal oil paintings to informal drawings and personal and press photographs—that Isabella chose to preserve. Combined with select examples of her clothing and jewelry, we see how Isabella fashioned herself and entered long and intricate collaborations with artists to craft her public image. In conjunction with Inventing Isabella, the Museum will also showcase the work of two contemporary artists, Fabiola Jean-Louis: Rewriting History and Carla Fernández: Tradition is not Static.


John Singer Sargent (American, 1856–1925), Isabella Stewart Gardner, 1888. Oil on canvas, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston.

About Isabella

Explore Other Exhibitions

Explore Other Exhibitions


Carla Fernández: Tradition is not Static

Inventing Isabella is supported in part by Fredericka and Howard Stevenson and by an endowment grant from the Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities.


Fabiola Jean-Louis: Rewriting History and Carla Fernández: Tradition Is Not Static are supported by the Barbara Lee Program Fund. The Artist-in-Residence program is directed by Pieranna Cavalchini, Tom and Lisa Blumenthal Curator of Contemporary Art. Funding is also provided for site-specific installations of new work on the Anne H. Fitzpatrick Façade on Evans Way.


The Museum receives operating support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, which is supported by the state of Massachusetts and the National Endowment for the Arts.