Thanks to Isabella Stewart Gardner, the Swedish painter Anders Zorn became the toast of the town when he arrived in Boston in 1894. Her patronage raised his profile among Boston’s elite to the level of other renowned artists, including Monet, Sargent, and Whistler. Zorn painted this portrait of Gardner at the Palazzo Barbaro in Venice, where Gardner often stayed and entertained an international set of cultural celebrities.
In this image, Gardner’s vibrant personality is on full display, as she comes in from a balcony to encourage dinner party guests to join her for the display of fireworks over the Grand Canal. Seeing this painting on display in Gardner’s museum in 1906, Anne O’Hagan Shinn, a suffragette and an early commentator on the collection, described the painting as a “flamelike incarnation of vigor and life—impression helped, doubtless, by the wonderful yellow gown which swathes the strong and supple figure that seems to leap from the canvas.”