Dodge MacKnight - Letter to Isabella Stewart Gardner from Mexico City, 21 September 1908

Dodge MacKnight (Providence, 1860 - 1950, Sandwich, Massachsetts)

Letter to Isabella Stewart Gardner from Mexico City, 21 September 1908

Ink on paper


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Object Case

Modern Painters And Sculptors Case



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This playful letter from painter Dodge Macknight to Isabella Stewart Gardner refers to the turbulent summer of 1908. In an economical move, Gardner stored several pieces she acquired in London at Ms. Emily Chadbourne’s home. When Ms. Chadbourne moved back to Chicago a few years later, she believed she was doing her friend a favor by moving Gardner’s pieces with the rest of Ms. Chadbourne’s items to the United States. Since she was moving, customs told her she did not have to declare her furnishings. When the movers recognized some of Gardner’s paintings and alerted the Customs House, Gardner had to go to court, and eventually paid $150,000 in customs fees and penalties. Gardner was horrified at what her friend had done, insisting that she had no idea that Ms. Chadbourne was going to move her museum pieces back to the United States.

While the public thought that Isabella was caught trying to game the system, Gardner’s friends rallied around her. Macknight’s words echo those of many of Isabella’s friends, eager to show their support during this difficult time. “You’re ALL RIGHT” insists Macknight in his letter, “I know it and lots of others know it – take you out of the city of Boston and there would be a hole there worse than Back Bay [which is built on landfill] thirty years ago”. Soon, an article and an editorial piece in The Evening Transcript restored Gardner’s reputation, and she was able to continue collecting for her museum.