Chasing Beauty: The Life of Isabella Stewart Gardner (Hardcover)

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Chasing Beauty: The Life of Isabella Stewart Gardner (Hardcover)


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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.


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.  

Product Details ISBN: 9781328515759
ISBN-10: 1328515753
Publisher: Mariner Books
Publication Date: March 26th, 2024
Pages: 512
Language: English

"Dykstra…finds the living Clover [who] was able to transform her feelings of loss and isolation into art." New York Times Book Review on Clover Adams

"A beautifully written and immensely satisfying new biography…what emerges is a clear and nuanced image of Clover that makes previous accounts seem as vague and shadowy as photographic negatives." — Boston Globe on Clover Adams

"Reveals a complex woman grappling with betrayal, loss and her era's discomfort with female ambition. A startling, original portrait of a woman in a shining cage discovering the terrible strength of its bars." — People magazine on Clover Adams

"Tautly conceived and concisely written…What Dykstra brings to a fuller understanding of Clover’s plight is a fresh and generous response to her work as a photographer." — New York Review of Books on Clover Adams

"Dykstra’s contextually rich and psychologically discerning portrait of an underappreciated luminary is enlightening and affecting." — Booklist on Clover Adams

"This compelling narrative reads as well as any page-turning novel." — Library Journal on Clover Adams

"With empathy and compassion, [Dykstra] gives voice to a woman nearly written out of existence . . . With this volume Dykstra provides Clover's life renewed significance." — Publishers Weekly on Clover Adams