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Boston’s Inside Out Museum

In some parts of Boston, you don’t have to travel far to feel like you’re in Europe. A visit to Beacon Hill is an immersion into a 19th-century English-inspired neighborhood, while Back Bay’s brownstones have a 19th-century French design. And, then there’s an impressive Venetian-inspired palace in the Back Bay Fens area…the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

The unconventional socialite and formidable diva, Isabella Stewart Gardner, traveled all over the world and amassed a huge, valuable art collection. She and her husband Jack decided to open a museum to display Isabella’s coveted treasures. Jack’s sudden death in 1898 left Isabella to carry on the project herself. The architect, William Sears, was exasperated by Isabella’s numerous demands to revise his design plans. And, “Mrs. Jack”, as she was called, kept a watchful eye over the laborers who seemed to be in constant rebuild mode until meticulous details were perfected to Isabella’s liking. The building was never Isabella’s house, although she did have a small apartment on the 4th floor.

Isabella was determined to share her love of art with Bostonians in an ambiance reminiscent of Venice. Finally, on February 23, 1903, her dream became a reality. The grand Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum opened to the public. The moment you step inside you’re embraced by its Venetian ambiance, three stories of galleries housing priceless works of art and carefully curated horticulture. The stunning interior courtyard’s pale pink stucco walls were inspired by exterior facades from buildings in Venice, giving it a quirky, yet elegant “inside out” look.  For a brief moment in time, it’s easy to forget you’re actually in Boston…

A sure sign of spring is when the bright orange hanging nasturtiums make their appearance in the courtyard, a tradition started in 1903 by Isabella, of course. The 20-foot long vines cascading down from the windows  are grown and nurtured in greenhouses in Hingham, MA for 9-10 months and last less than three weeks. 

Visit the museum as soon as it opens @ 11 am to avoid crowds, especially on weekends. Or, plan to visit a few hours before closing time. As darkness descends upon the courtyard, the lights in the galleries add a beautiful glow behind the windows of the galleries.

Click here for information on hours. Admission is $15 for adults and $12 for seniors 65+. If you wear something with a Red Sox logo, there’s a $2 discount for adults and seniors. (Isabella was a big Red Sox fan.) And, if your name is Isabella, you can visit for free.

The Gardner museum is closed on Tuesdays so the amazing horticulture staff can tend to the potted flowers and plants. It’s a great place to visit any day, especially if you’re looking for things to do on rainy or a cold winter day.

Massachusetts residents: reserve a museum pass at your local library and pay $5 per person for up to 4 people on one pass. 

In January 2015, the Gardner Museum lifted the ban on photography that was in place for 112 years—much to the delight of photographers and Instagrammers. Here are some photography tips for photographing the nasturtiums with your camera or smartphone:

  • Try to go on a day that’s overcast to avoid shadows in the inner courtyard when the sun is shining.
  • Start on the third floor and make your way down.
  • Set the ISO to 400 or use Auto ISO on your camera. (The ISO is pre-set on most smartphones.)
  • Take a wide-angle, aerial shot of the courtyard angling down in either horizontal or vertical.
  • Move around from one window to another for different perspectives.
  • If you have a long lens on your camera, use aperture priority or manual mode to create a blurred background. Set the aperture to f/3.5 or f/4). Zoom in and make sure the focal points are on the nasturtiums in the background.
  • Don’t get caught up in perfecting your images in the camera and lose sight of the beauty in front of you. As we all know, post-processing editing software helps balance the light and can saturate the color of an image. No need to waste precious time with SOOC →straight out of the camera.
  • Above all, have fun. Remember, developing a photographer’s eye for creative pictures can be achieved with any camera or smartphone.




Saba K. Alhadi, Founder
PhotoWalks Tours of Boston
617.851.2273 ▪ e: [email protected]