What Isabella Wanted: Isabella Stewart Gardner Builds a Museum

Neal Porter/Holiday House/. Sept. 2021. 40p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780823442638.
Gr 3-6–Isabella Stewart Gardner, who lived in Boston in the late 1800s, collected art and objects—lots and lots of art and objects. She was very spirited, loved adventure, and liked to stir things up a bit. On a trip to Europe in 1867, she was captivated by the art she saw and set about acquiring as much as she could, employing agents around the globe to procure the treasures she sought, often using devious or downright dishonest methods for obtaining them. It soon became clear she needed a much larger place to display everything, so she set about designing a four-story palazzo, devoting the first three floors to eclectic displays of art, objects, and everyday items that appealed to her, all of which she personally arranged, then shared with the public 20 days a year for $1 per person. Upon her death, she bequeathed her museum to the people of Boston on the condition that nothing be touched or rearranged. That held true until 1990, when thieves made off with over $500 million in art, none of which has ever been recovered. The text is written in free verse and gives a brief overview of Isabella’s life and escapades. While the story itself does not call into question the ethics of her schemes for acquiring art, the more extensive back matter delves into it a bit while also filling in additional details about the palazzo and Isabella. Cordell’s characteristic sketch lines, filled with mostly subdued colors, work to bring a historic feel to the story. Source notes, a bibliography, and the web address for the museum are provided.
VERDICT This may have limited appeal outside the northeast, specifically the Boston area. It will no doubt be a fitting addition to the museum’s gift shop.

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