Anniversaries and birthdays have long been occasions for the commission of works of art—particularly literature, painting, and music. In this spirit, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum continues its year-long centennial celebration with the publication of the book Eye of the Beholder: Masterpieces from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Beacon Press, 2003).
An array of special exhibitions, lectures, concerts, and programs make up the anniversary celebration, with a focus on intermingling of the arts. Eye of the Beholder also intermingles—text and photographs, history and art, past and present. The book takes its title from the museum’s “Eye of the Beholder” lecture series, designed to highlight the personal nature of the art experience with contemporary comments and ideas.
The book is a visual tour of the Gardner Museum’s architecture, gardens, and galleries, set out in over 180 color plates. As much a history book as an art book, it frames the Gardner Museum’s evolution within period photographs, quotes from letters, and other archived material—such as a handwritten receipt for the sale of a painting to the Gardners from James McNeill Whistler himself—much of which has never before been available to the pubic. Editors Alan Chong, Richard Lingner, and Carl Zahn also culled together the texts from lectures, unpublished diaries, books and articles, and essays specifically written for this book.
Just as the Gardner Museum continues to pursue its mission by juxtaposing classic with contemporary art, Eye of the Beholder aims to combine historical voices with diverse contemporary commentaries that advance fresh new interpretations through shifting perspectives. The collection is brought to life through the lenses of art, the humanities, anthropology, theatre, literature, and poetry. The list of contributors includes Henry James, Edith Wharton, Herodotus, May Sarton, Sister Wendy Beckett, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Senator Edward Kennedy, Peter Sellars, and Isabella Stewart Gardner herself. Artists such as John Singer Sargent, James McNeill Whistler, Michelangelo, and Titian comment on their own works and processes.