In 1886, Henry James introduced Isabella Stewart Gardner to renowned painter John Singer Sargent, beginning a friendship that spanned almost 40 years. Isabella was delighted when the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston commissioned Sargent to decorate their new building in 1916 and she closely followed the project’s progress.
Sargent designed not only the rotunda’s paintings and sculpted reliefs but also its ceiling moldings. He experimented with many different designs and tested them in a scale model of the rotunda before settling on his final choices for enlargement and installation. Isabella collected the cast offs and used them to construct a fireplace hood at Green Hill, her home in Brookline. Sargent commented that if “architecture is frozen music" he would like to be around when the “fireplace melted.”
Isabella sold Green Hill on 1 April 1919, leaving the fireplace hood behind, and making the fourth floor of the museum her sole residence.