Natasha de Betak was one of the first Artists-in-Residence to live and work in the newly built artist apartments in the Renzo Piano–designed New Wing that opened in January 2012. After going on a flashlight tour of the galleries at night with guard Al Polikoff, de Betak was inspired to continue photographing the collection in the dark, giving special attention to hands and eyes. In often-overlooked cases in the galleries, she discovered lockets and boxes containing the hair of John Keats, Franz Liszt, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Robert Browning, all collected by Isabella Stewart Gardner. She also photographed an 1875 folio edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven (translated into French by Mallarmé with illustrations by Manet) and Henry Frith’s Chiromancy: The Science of Palmistry (1883).
In the Archives, de Betak looked at Isabella Gardner’s travel journals from India. She read poems and comments written in Gardner’s “autograph book” from her teenage days at schools she attended in New York and Paris. She also viewed an album of photographs of European royalty collected by Gardner’s mother, Adelia Smith Stewart. After a visit to the Gardner family crypt in Mt. Auburn Cemetery (where Isabella is buried), de Betak studied Gardner’s detailed directions for her funeral and her will. On April 14, de Betak attended Gardner’s memorial service, which in accordance with her will is held annually, on her birthday, in the Long Gallery chapel.
In addition to her time at the Museum, de Betak spent several days photographing books in the collection of the Warren Anatomical Museum, Countway Library of Medicine, at Harvard Medical School. She accessed volumes on the brain, nervous system, and mental disorders, as well as watercolors from the late 1800s illustrating examples of breast cancer and venereal disease. In total, de Betak amassed a collection of over 4,000 photographs which she used to assemble several new works in the apartment’s studio. Following her residency, de Betak stayed a week in New York City and made a trip to Baltimore, MD to photograph Edgar Allan Poe’s grave.
Natasha de Betak is a filmmaker, photographer, and costume designer. Her film Kaal (2000) was exhibited at the Hermes Gallery in Tokyo, won the Best Short Fiction Film Award at the Tempere International Film Festival, and was chosen as one of the Sundance Film Festival’s International Best Shorts. Her 2007 film Speaking Tree, a documentary about a man’s unusual six-year existence tied to a tree in northwestern India, was nominated for Best Documentary at MIAAC in New York and had its European premiere at the Paris Film Festival in 2008. De Betak’s films and photographs have been shown at the Exhibition Center at the University of Applied Arts Vienna; the Freies Museum Berlin; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and ACC Galerie Weimar.