Women In 19th Century America

Powerful Essays
WOMEN: THE NEW ART PATRONS IN 19TH AND 20TH CENTURY AMERICA

Art was not always a woman’s pursuit, like it is nowadays. In the late 18th century, during the Enlightenment, the idea of the “gentleman” pervaded American culture, as exemplified by Ben Franklin. Arts, natural sciences and humanities became de rigueur for respectable men. This continued throughout the early 20th century, until the end of the westward expansion and the transformation of the United States from a rural to an urban society, when the physical strength characteristic of masculinity was no longer needed. A fear that masculine characteristics were going to be lost as they were no longer needed for the modern life spread throughout society. Hence, a true gentleman was
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Champney as “one of the seven wonders of the world. There is nobody like her in any city in this country. She is a millionaire Bohemienne. She is eccentric, and she has the courage of eccentricity…. She often leads where none dare follow”. 1 Such eccentricity was neither common nor encouraged for women in 19th century America, but in Isabella’s case it was not seen as insanity because of her husband’s wealth. Jack Gardner was the scion of one of Boston’s ruling family clans. A prominent social figure, he served on the board of the Museum of Fine Arts, among other non-profit institutions. Her social status allowed Isabella Stewart Gardner to constantly challenge convention throughout her life. Instead of moving within a network of women, she surrounded herself with male mentors and friends, including the writer Henry James and the painters James McNeill Whistler and John Singer Sargent. The latter served as one of her scouts overseas, alerting her to opportunities to buy various objects, from Persian rugs to Watteau paintings. She, in turn, patronized him in the United States. These acquisitions were originally for decorating the Gardner house in Beacon Hill, but they increased substantially in 1891, when Stewart Gardner received a $1.75 million bequest from her father’s estate. Thanks to these new funds, she bought Botticelli’s Lucretia in 1894 and Titian’s Rape of Europa in …show more content…
This moment was the conception of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, for it made her oppose the purchasing of works of art by a committee and made her more determined to only work by herself. She was very confident of her judgment and was not going to invest time convincing a group of people that could outvote her. By 1899, she was showing her collection to the public in her Beacon Hill home while the Fenway Court location for the Museum was being built under her directions. As always with Mrs. Gardner, building her own museum defied social norms for women. It was usual for society matrons to volunteer for a philanthropic effort, but the idea of a woman owning and operating a museum was unthinkable. Management had been a man’s job, while women pursued less stressful endeavors such as painting, hosting salons and investing their time, but not their thoughts, in philanthropic activities. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum opened its doors in 1903, greeting visitors with a plaque that says “C’est mon plaisir”, which translates as “It is my will” as well as “It is my pleasure”. If we take the first meaning, it can be said that she meant it, literally. Under the terms of her will, if the trustees ever staged an exhibition of paintings other than her own or changed the

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