Read Mrs. Jack: A Biography of Isabella Stewart Gardner by Louise Hall Tharp Online


A biography of Isabella Stewart Gardner of Boston in the 19th century. An American charmer and art collector, Isabella Stewart Gardner and her husband Jack kept company with the leading men of the day including Henry James, Henry Adams, John Singer Sargent and Whistler. The Stewart Gardners' Boston home, which was modelled after a Venetian...

Title : Mrs. Jack: A Biography of Isabella Stewart Gardner
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780926637009
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 365 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Mrs. Jack: A Biography of Isabella Stewart Gardner Reviews

  • Mia Marlowe
    2019-03-19 12:04

    Last month, after taking the red-eye back from Seattle where I spoke for Eastside RWA, I went to the Isabella Gardner Museum. A friend of mine is a docent there and she treated a small circle of us to a private tour. Isabella Stewart Gardner was the wife of a wealthy Boston Brahmin who inherited 1.6 million upon the death of her father in 1891, back when that was an embarrassingly large sum. She and her husband agreed she'd spend the lot acquiring art. So she spent her life and her funds traveling the globe cherry-picking masterpieces. I was already so sick with envy, I was predisposed not to like Ms. Gardner a bit. Then I saw what she'd created. The Gardner Museum is an absolute gem! More than merely a collection of acknowledged masterworks, this is the sum of a life's passion, a peek into a woman's soul. It's a very personal exposee of a unique individual's quest to educate, to tempt, to infuse her culture with an appreciation for beauty. Not only did she acquire art, she encouraged and supported the best artists of her time. Then she put on her curator hat and transformed her home into a museum (She lived on the fourth floor of this incredible building that's wrapped around a four-storey Venetian-style courtyard). By observing what she'd so carefully chosen and so lovingly displayed, I learned about her tastes, her loves, her theology, and her eccentricities.The museum was the site of a major heist ten years ago. Someone broke in with a "shopping list" and sliced a Ver Meer and several Rembrandts from their frames. Since the paintings haven't resurfaced, we can only assume they are in the private collection of some cash-rich, spirit-poor meany-head who doesn't work and play well with others. I wonder at the smallness of heart that would steal beauty from the world so they alone can enjoy it. But I suspect owning those pieces gives them little real pleasure because they can't let anyone know they have them. The frames still hang empty in the Gardner Museum to this day. The painting above is a portrait of Isabella Gardner done by Anders Zorn, a Swedish artist. I think it beautifully captures her generosity of spirit. She's stretched out, filling the space and pressing against the walls, refusing to be confined by the conventions of her day. I like Isabella Gardner very much indeed. I had to learn more about this fascinating woman. She was an original! I highly recommend the book.

  • BookSweetie
    2019-03-11 16:29

    Five million dollar reward !!The reward is real but, sorry, not for plodding (or even traipsing merrily) through MRS. JACK, Louise Hall Tharp's biography of the extraordinary, red-headed Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840-1924), whose life spanned pre-Civil War nineteenth century America through the early twentieth century and immediate post-World War I years.The reward is for information that leads directly to the recovery of the items taken in one of the most significant art thefts in history (art still awol, as I write this anyway). In 1990, art masterworks by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Manet, and Degas went missing, stolen by a pair of criminals disguised as police officers. (They managed to deceive the security guards who ended up being duct-taped and helpless until the shocked next shift arrived.)If you have guessed that this record-setting theft is somehow connected with Isabella Stewart Gardner, you are right. New York born Isabella Stewart was married to the fabulously wealthy Beacon Hill Bostonian John ("Jack") Lowell Gardner Jr. (1837-1898) and Bella became the charming and unconventional "Mrs. Jack," philanthropist, patron of the arts, and with her husband, collector of art. After Jack's death, Isabella directed her own creative energies towards leaving a lasting legacy: the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Yes! The very museum invaded by the art thieves was Isabella's! Of course, she has long been dead, but even before her death, her fortune and determination had been successful in creating a place for her passionately-collected art to be shared with the public. Now, I've never been to the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum, apart from an internet visit I just made and very highly recommend. You may or may not have been there yourself. Still, you and I are each part of that public, so we were robbed, too! Hence, if you have any information to help Isabella rest a little better in her grave in Cambridge, Massachusetts' notable Mount Auburn Cemetery, please share it with the FBI; then collect your millions. One wonders if the thieves had read MRS. JACK before their selfish heist. Would that have stopped them? That's tough to say, but it would give me some comfort to know that they had cared enough to learn something about the stories behind the museum, the art collecting and the people involved, most notably Isabella herself. In contrast, I wish I had known about the art heist connection before I had completed reading the biography. I discovered that news by researching the museum just a short while ago. Naturally, nothing about the theft is mentioned anywhere in the book; it hadn't happened yet. However, I think I might have enjoyed the reading experience a bit more knowing that fact in advance, or perhaps having previous knowledge of the museum or having already visited there. Just a short while ago, I also learned that the currently popular fictional book titled The Art Forger: A Novel by B. A. Shapiro, which won a Boston Globe's Best Crime Books of 2012 designation, was inspired by the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum theft. Let me be clear: MRS. JACK is a meticulously researched 1960s era biography by Louise Hall Tharp, but the book itself is far less extraordinary than the subject. Yes, readers encounter a wealth of information and insight about the subject; it's rich in detail, (historical) name-dropping, and nuanced incidents that reveal aspects of a complex personality, but the delivery does not dazzle. This biography does manage to acquaint readers with an intriguing person and a rather unreal, foreign-seeming Gilded Age social world filled with encounters with famous writers like Henry James and artists like John Singer Sargent. The finished product is adequate, but oh, such a missed opportunity!

  • Jenny
    2019-02-23 14:12

    I read this book at the behest of my closest friend, who lives in Massachusetts and whom I visited in August. She attended college across the street from the ISG Museum and frequented there during her college days. She planned to take me to the museum, which has always been her favorite, and I needed to read up about this lady, whose name I had never even heard until my friend bought me the book. When I received it, I thought, "Oh boy." That baby was 324 pages long and written fairly densely. I struggled to get through the first 50 or so pages, and parts that were heavy on Boston society were particularly hard to read for me. However, I never expected to love the whole experience as much as I did, and I'm so glad that I read this book!My friend, for her part, did not brush up on the book since reading it in college. So, while she had the local knowledge and the stomping grounds down pat, I was the one during our museum visit who was able to point out particular stories about paintings, their placements, reasons for their purchase, etc. Thus, we made a great combination. The book really picked up for me when Isabella transitioned into a serious art collector. At that point it became supremely interesting. All in all, a good read despite some dry recitations and too many letters quoted. You can really sense Isabella's ache that follows her throughout life due to the loss of her young son, almost two years old, and her subsequent inability to have children. It really seems to affect so much of what she did and who she became, and understandably so. At the museum, I could practically feel her presence. It really was awesome. The book was written in the 1960's and thus cannot predict the major heist that occurred in 1990 when two men posed as police officers and stole 13 of the priceless works of art, so I did some additional reading on that afterward. It all just lends to the air of wonder in the place.

  • Carol
    2019-03-22 14:24

    I love this museum. Every year we visit Boston and I have to go to her museum as well as the mfa. It is very intimate and the garden in the spring is breathtaking. I enjoyed this biography, although she enjoyed a wonderful marriage, extensive traveling, gifts of amazing jewelry and great wealth to be able to acquire old master paintings as well as contemporary artists (Sargent, Whistler), she also suffered greatly after the death of her little boy and a miscarriage of her second child, and later the death of her beloved husband. But she was a strong woman, before her time.

  • Jessica
    2019-03-25 11:32

    I put this aside because it was so much more dense than I thought. She is an amazing character, but the fact that this was written in the 60s really shows. I got so lost keeping track of all the Boston society names/faces and there is soooo much unnecessary detail! Every letter, every don't even get to the museum until 3/4 through. Still has enough fun/interesting tidbits that I'll finish it eventually :)

  • Janet
    2019-03-10 16:25

    Good book, recommended in my book club. Makes you want to read more about the "Gardner Heist". Some in the book club felt it seemed to be written more for academia, and felt a little hard to get into, as well as keep up with all characters. Found it quite interesting about life in her "circle" in the 1800's.

  • Diane
    2019-03-11 08:22


  • Jamie Burgess
    2019-03-22 10:24

    I really had high hopes for this book, but I found that it didn't do justice to what must have been such a startling character as Mrs. Jack. There seemed to be no cohesive thesis to this biography and it relied so much on primary sources but offered almost nothing else--no descriptions of the 19th century New York that Mrs. Jack was born into, nothing about what it was truly like. And then deaths happened so suddenly! It's time for a new book about Mrs. Jack, one that will do her real justice.

  • Trudy
    2019-03-02 12:31

    I read only about a third of this book, because I grew weary of the Gardner's frequent trips, during which Mrs. Jack flirted shamelessly with handsome young men and Jack was not present. My take-aways from this book are random facts that interested me. Hollophane lamps, for example, were installed in one of their homes. They were the rage from the 1890's to the 1950's. They were clear molded glass or crystal shades with parallel or crosscut prisms. After a year of school in Paris, Belle visited the Poldi-Pezzoli Palace in Milan and vowed to build a palace and fill it with beautiful things if she ever had her own money. Cleopatra's Barge was a large sleigh that took young socialites from Boston to Milton. The Hotel Boston was the first apartment house in the country, very French, very Continental. The Gardner's first house was at 152 Beacon St. Washington Square in New York was called the Parade Ground back then. Charles Frederick Worth made dressmaking big business in Paris. Henry James appeared to have been in love with Belle, but he was safe because he avoided "entanglements." He was probably gay but didn't act on it because he hated Oscar Wilde's flamboyancy. Mrs. Jack and Frank Marion Crawford were accused of "chandeliering," making themselves the center of the ballroom. Frank Crawford suddenly, surreptitiously left for Rome on the Cunard Line without telling Belle he wasn't going to go to Japan with them. Jack Gardner took his wife alone, instead, in a very uncharacteristic move in the spring of 1863. The Country Club in Brookline did not have. Golf course in 1881. Golf came to attention after Queen Victoria built Balmoral. Harvard Musical Concerts at the Music Hall were the precursors to the BSO in the 1880's.

  • Cindy
    2019-03-12 13:06

    I've passed the Gardner Museum to and from class thrice weekly for two years now. I've had several classes with the Gardner's archivist. Pretty much every class I've had at Simmons has been in a classroom with windows facing the Gardner. Yet I've never actually gone inside. So now I'm reading Isabella Stewart Gardner's biography with the hope that after I read all 600 or so pages, I will be properly motivated to visit the museum. I do get free admission after all. About the book: Not horrible. It's quaint. Like it was written by a Lady in a Parlour. It's pretty apparent that the author has a big ole hard on for Belle Gardner because there isn't a fleck of criticism. She mentions that Belle was snubbed by Boston's polite female society early on because her family didn't exactly oppose the Confederacy, and she was a little too proud of her slave-owning ancestors. This whole section is written in a sort of flippant "but Belle didn't like them anyway" tone. So there's that. Overall though, I would recommend the biography to anyone who's into Boston, art, and ostentatious women of the Gilded Age. It's non-fiction that reads a lot like a novel. I mean, the woman did borrow some lion cubs from the zoo to use as accessories. And she did show up at an ultra snobby symphony hall sporting an, "OH YOU RED SOX" headband.

  • Julia
    2019-02-25 15:18

    I think it is fair to call this biography a good deal dated. Which is not entirely a bad thing. Unlike many contemporary biographies, which can be written with the dramatic pacing and psychological depth of novels, this book gives a delineation of events largely free of the author's retroactive analysis. Louise Hall Tharp's authorial desecration, no doubt influenced by 1960's public morality, leaves many of Mrs. Gardner's most scandalous exploits as subtext. While this style makes for a slower read that sometimes feels like unedited lists of paintings acquired or parties attended or minor musicians asked to tea, it also feels like you are getting a more transparent version of events - a version that has not been manipulated to serve the biographer's narrative purpose. What saves this book is the truly interesting subject matter. The life and times of Isabelle Stewart Gardner are amusing and bizarre even in their driest recounting. It is in the end a highly intriguing portrait of a dynamic woman, in every way a "one percenter" of the Gilded Age.

  • LuAnn
    2019-03-14 10:31

    Fenway Court, as The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum was known during her lifetime, with it's wonderful integration of art and architecture, is the premier self-portrait of Isabella Stewart Gardner. This bio, Mrs. Jack, is a thorough though slightly confusing look at ISG's eccentric life and life work of creating and establishing her collection and the building to house it. Her impact on Boston society is amusing and probably greater than can be conveyed in a book. Little about her interior life, lots about her her many, many friend and musical, artistic and literary proteges. (I had to wonder what her loyal husband thought of these mostly young men.) Clearly written in another era, I enjoyed the style though its the tendency to jump from one situation and person to another that makes it confusing. I appreciated seeing the caring side of this woman who grieved her son and husband, was loyal to friends, raised their nephews as their own and was generous to many both before and after death. I will appreciate the Gardner all the more for having read this.

  • Ash
    2019-03-04 14:13

    This is an academic book written in 1965...very different from the style of many biographies today. There was so much interesting information, but I'm not sure that it is arranged in the best manner. There's a lot of jumping around time periods that is often unnecessary and detracts from the narrative you're supposed to be following. To be honest, I could only get half way through, it was that tedious. Isabella Stewart Gardner was such an amazing woman and I would have liked more depth into her personality, letter reproductions, etc. I just don’t feel like I really got a full sense of her. There has got to be a better way to tell Garner’s story in a way that does justice to her and her accomplishments without sacrificing the intricacies of her friendships, the complexities of her marriage, and the depths her passions.

  • Phoebe
    2019-03-05 16:07

    This book is DENSE. It's like I just read and read and read, and barely got anywhere. I'm interested in Isabella, but didn't make it past the first 100 pages, which were actually fascinating with regards to learning what life in Civil War-era Boston as like (spoiler alert: people died all the time). I found the biographer's obvious fangirl/rose-colored-glasses take on the major events in Mrs. Jack's life distracting and distancing, though I did enjoy direct quotes from Mr. & Mrs. Gardner's personal journals. There's also a lot of funny & curious stuff surrounding Mrs. Jack's flirtatious habits and multiple would-be suitors/adulterers. I wanted to make it as far as Mrs. Gardner meeting & commissioning painter John Singer Sargent, but my attention fizzled before then. Ah, well. Good thing my partner read this book and recounted the highlights. #readingbyproxy

  • Nathan232
    2019-02-23 14:25

    I picked this book up at the gift shop at the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum in Boston. The space had long been my favorite since I discovered it during my "arty" years at college. I used to spend the week-ends taking my student IDs to all Boston's best museums including the ISGM and the MoMA, and not to forget the great musuems on the Harvard campus. This space, even though small, immediately became my favorite; so I wanted to know more about the woman who created it.What a woman Isabella Stewart Gardner was, and what a legacy she left! She lived at, what I think, was an exciting time, the late 1800s into the early 1900s. She spent her money wisely and built one of the most impressive collections of art in the Western world.

  • Anne
    2019-03-20 08:33

    I was very surprised to find out that this woman was not your straight-laced Victorian matron. She had a very colorful and flamboyant life with her "proteges". I found amusing and astonishing that each time a would be scandal would surface, that her husband would just whisk her off to some foreign country for a couple of years.With much of the dialogue being from the late 19th century and early 20th, and the book itself being written in the 1960's, it was not an easy read(at least for me).But I stuck with it and glad I did, next time I am in Boston I will make it a point to visit the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum.

  • Vikki
    2019-03-22 10:31

    Isabella Stewart Gardner is such a fascinating person. I became intriqued when I visited the museum in Boston about ten years ago, after the heist. It is such a personal museum. Mrs. Jack's touch is on every item in the museum, of course. I am so glad I got to finally read a biography of her. The book was quite detailed and may be more than most people would like to read. But it was perfect for me. What a different time the late 1800's and early 1900's were. I certainly would recommend this book. And I certainly would like to visit the museum again. I would make sure I saw the Sargent painting, Lady in White.

  • Katie
    2019-03-17 08:30

    The Gardner Museum was one of those Boston attractions that I'd never gotten around to seeing, until earlier this year. I hadn't known much about Isabella Stewart Gardner herself, but she sounded like an interesting person, so I was looking forward to knowing more about her. This wasn't bad, and it was definitely interesting to hear about Boston for the upper class in the late 1800s-early 1900s, but sometimes it can turn into name soup- I had a hard time keeping track of all the people in the Gardners' social circle.

  • Karen
    2019-03-03 13:26

    The Gardner is my favorite museum, but I knew little about the owner of the collection other than a few outrageous stories I had heard. Turns out, those were mild compared to her actual personality, which is brought to life beautifully in this book. I made another trip to the museum two weeks ago in the midst of reading the book, and now feel I owe myself another visit, soon. Ironically, I finished the book today on Mrs. Jack's death anniversary.

  • Linda
    2019-03-07 12:18

    I had never heard of Isabella Stewart Gardner until my freshman year at Simmons College, whose main building is right next door to the Gardner museum. In those days there was no admission fee to the museum and it was pleasant to go there and enjoy her beautiful garden and the wonderful art work on the walls of this, her home. With Tharp as biographer and Gardner has her subject, how could this book go wrong?

  • Sandy123
    2019-03-22 08:16

    What an amazing woman! She traveled the world, had an eye for fashion, good literature and of course art. She was truly a patron of the arts and created a most beautiful museum. I would love to be able to go back and time and be there the night she opened her museum to her friends. It was a magical night by all accounts.

  • Kathy
    2019-03-13 15:19

    This is the story of a fascinating and complex woman. It was written in the 60's and it was interesting to see the discretion used when hinting at affairs. Very different from today's biographies. It was a little dry but I'm glad I read it. A recent visit to her museum was my inspiration. I want to go back now and view it again with all my newfound knowledge.

  • Barbara
    2019-03-11 13:18

    I thought the book lacked focus...seemed to be a laundry list of ISG's travels. Very little about how she was impacted by the world or the country around her. I found myself wondering why I should care.

  • Nestor Tirado
    2019-03-22 14:27

    Interesting biography of Ysabelle Stewart Gardner and her art collecting and foundation of her museum in Boston Masachusets US and also a picture of Bostons high society at the tyrn of the century and detaiks of the lives of some related characters like Henry James and painter Singer Sargeant.

  • MJ
    2019-02-23 13:30

    Louise Hall Tharp brings Mrs. "Jack" Gardner to life. We learn of her fascinating Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum-no architect was more hands on than she- as we see how she gave as good as she got in a somewhat too self-satisfied Boston.

  • Holliday
    2019-03-26 13:24

    An interesting biography of a fascinating personality - a bit sanitized - omitting details of her relationships, if any, within her circle, and the coterie of young men she befriended - many homosexual, which is only implied. However not as tedious a listing of her letters as in Curtis.

  • Joan Karter
    2019-02-26 13:27

    The book was interesting to me because I was interested in Isabella but the writing was disappointing. Too many dry facts. The other people in Isabella's life (and there were so many of them) seemed very one dimensional to me.

  • Jocelyn
    2019-03-14 13:15

    ISG is one cool chic. The stories in here are fantastic, if you have ever visited the Museum or know anything about her, this would be a good read. It definitely is a biography though, so it took me awhile to get through--lots of facts.

  • Sue
    2019-03-23 11:34

    A look into the life of Boston's colorful figure, Isabella Stewart Gardner. A wealthy art patroness, philanthropist, collector who built Fenway Court as a museum to house her Collection. Now known as the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, definitely worth a visit if in Boston.

  • Milch514
    2019-03-01 15:10

    I went to the Gardner Museum in May. After reading this book, I want to return as I feel I have a whole new look into her life and her aquisitions.