Chasing Beauty: The Life of Isabella Stewart Gardner (Hardcover)
The vivid and masterful story of Isabella Stewart Gardner—creator of one of America’s most stunning museums—an American original whose own life was remade by art. Includes archival photos of Isabella’s world, museum, and the art she collected.
Isabella Stewart Gardner’s museum, with its plain exterior enfolding an astonishing four-story Italian palazzo, rose from Boston’s Fens at the turn of the twentieth century. Its treasures encompassed not only masterwork paintings but tapestries, rare books, prints, porcelains, and fine furniture.
An extraordinary achievement of storytelling and scholarship, Chasing Beauty illuminates the fascinating ways the museum and its holdings can be seen as a kind of memoir, dazzling and haunting, created with objects instead of words and displayed per Isabella’s wishes in the exact placements she initially curated.
Born in 1840 to a privileged New York family, Isabella Stewart married Boston Brahmin Jack Gardner as she turned twenty. She was misunderstood by Boston’s insular society and suffered the death of her only child, a beloved boy, not yet two years old.
But in time came friendships, glittering and bohemian; awe-inspiring world travels; and collecting beautiful things with a keen eye and competitive pace—all these were balm for loss. Henry James and John Singer Sargent—whose portrait of Isabella was a masterpiece and a scandal—came to recognize her originality. Bernard Berenson, leading connoisseur of the Italian Renaissance, was her art dealer.
From award-winning author Natalie Dykstra, Chasing Beauty is the story of the complex and singular woman behind one of the most fascinating museums in the nation and the world—a tale of beauty and loss, grit and American self-invention.
About the Author
Natalie Dykstra is the author of Clover Adams: A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life. Her work on Isabella Stewart Gardner has won a Public Scholars Award from the National Endowment for the Humanities and an inaugural Robert and Ina Caro Research/Travel Fellowship sponsored by the Biographers International Organization (BIO). Dykstra, emerita professor of English at Hope College in Michigan, lives with her husband in Waltham, MA.
“Isabella Stewart Gardner has found the ideal biographer in Natalie Dykstra, who gives Gardner, her nerves of steel, her expert eye, and her singular curiosity their due in this wise, sparkling book.” — Stacy Schiff, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams and Cleopatra: A Life
“Natalie Dykstra has written an absorbing, deeply researched biography that is also a travelogue, Edwardian period drama, and art history primer, with a supporting cast that includes Henry James, John Singer Sargent, Edith Wharton, and Henry Adams. In these pages, Isabella Stewart Gardner comes to life as a feminist pathbreaker finally given her due—and an artist in her own right.” — Heather Clark, author of Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath
“The complex, magnificent life of Isabella Stewart Gardner pours through the pages of Natalie Dykstra’s wonderful, definitive biography. Gardner left an incomparable legacy; at long last, she has found a biographer who can match her in range, profundity, and eye for detail. It is thrilling to watch the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum rise again in this powerful, timely book.” — Rachel Cohen, author of A Chance Meeting: American Encounters
“Dykstra’s deeply researched biography reveals the complex modern woman behind Isabella Stewart Gardner’s trademark gauzy veils. It’s such a compelling tale, how a woman born into a Victorian world of privilege and propriety stepped outside the dos and don’ts of her social set to become an incomparable entrepreneur and cultural visionary.” — Wanda M. Corn, author of Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern
“A lifelong friend of Henry James, Gardner inspired some of his fictional heroines yet surpassed them all in her psychological complexity, the magnificence of her vision, and her zest for experience. Dykstra tells a captivating story of an artist and her time.” — Linda Leavell, author of Holding On Upside Down: The Life and Work of Marianne Moore
“Copiously researched and engagingly written, Chasing Beauty is biography at its best: a vivid, empathic portrait of an extraordinary woman.” — Caroline Weber, author of Proust's Duchess: How Three Celebrated Women Captured the Imagination of Fin-de-Siècle Paris
“Thoroughly researched . . . the author captures the sweep and energy of [Gardner’s] life . . . A richly detailed biographical portrait.” — Kirkus Reviews
“An elegant depiction of a larger-than-life trailblazer.” — Publishers Weekly