Off the Wall

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston has one of the most intimate collections of art in the world, and for the next five months, visitors are getting an close-up view of some of the museum's masterpieces.

"Off the Wall: Gardner and Her Masterpieces" gives visitors direct access to 25 works of Northern European, Italian, and Spanish art from the museum's palace.

"We thought, we can bring them into the exhibition space and give people the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see them really up close and in great light," said Dr. Christina Nielsen, William and Lia Poorvu Curator of the Collection.

Nielsen carefully selected the works, arranging them in the contemporary Hostetter Gallery to tell the story of Isabella Stewart Gardner's formation as a collector.

"You can see her moving from 1892 where she's acquiring incredible works from the Dutch Golden Age through the next decade where she really falls in love with Italian art, and she's able to put together one of the best collections of Renaissance Italian art in America or even the world," Nielsen said.

The exhibition has allowed Nielsen and visitors to discover new details about their favorite paintings, including Rembrandt's "Self-Portrait, Aged 23," which usually lives in the museum's Dutch Room.

"I've always looked at him and considered his dark, black eyes. These sorts of soulful round orbs peering down from the wall and really talking to me," Nielsen told NECN. "What I never realized until we got the work here and we lit it properly is that his eyes aren't soulful black or dark brown at all. They're actually blue-brown."

"Off the Wall" unfolds across two spaces at the museum, from the new building to the Vatichino inside the palace.

"It was a small room in which she kept a number of items that were sacred to her," said Nielsen. "Collected letters, correspondence, photographs of her friends, dealers receipts, shipping manifests."

The exhibit offers visitors and art historians a chance to appreciate Gardner in a new light.

"She was able to pull off something here that's really unparalleled and extraordinary," Nielsen said.

"Off the Wall: Gardner and Her Masterpieces" is on view at the Gardner Museum until Aug. 15. During that time, the rooms that are usually home to these masterpieces are closed for restoration.

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