1. A New England Bloomsbury
5. Berenson and Mrs. Gardner: The Museum Years
14. Some Correspondence of Matthew Stewart Prichard and Isabella
30. Charles Martin Loeffler: Composer at Court
38. Portraits in Black and White
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Incorporated Fiftieth Annual Report for the Year 1974
47. Report of the President
49. Report of the Director
55. Note on the Organization of the Museum
58. Trustees and Staff
Mrs. Gardner was exceptionally witty, but spoken wit is notoriously difficult to capture and preserve on paper. So much depends, after all, on inflection, expression, and timing:- "The immigration laws are stricter these days," she once remarked to a lady boasting of Mayflower ancestry. But all the anecdotes, many of them no doubt apocryphal, offer only a frail echo of her sparkling acerbities, of conversational brilliance that could command the attention, and allegiance, of a Henry James.
If its wit is to survive, a circle must include several literary figures, for when writers gossip, particularly about one another, the reverberations resound in many a memoir. The circle formed around Mrs. Gardner on Gloucester's Eastern Point in the decade before World War I, however, included no writers, and little of this New England Bloomsbury has survived in print. "The Colony," as Mrs. Gardner dubbed it upon her first visit in the autumn of 1907, consisted initially of a string of summer cottages on Gloucester's inner harbor, a half mile from lighthouse and breakwater. Their occupants comprised three maiden ladies of strikingly divergent endowments, Cecelia Beaux, Caroline Sinkler, and Joanna Davidge, and two bachelors, Henry Sleeper and Piatt Andrew. The appearance of Mrs. Gardner in this combustible milieu touched off a display of social pyrotechnics.
Who were these people, and what drew Mrs. Gardner to them? Cecelia Beaux, of course, was already a friend of some years' standing. A portraitist whose career had taken her into the White House to paint Edith Roosevelt and her daughter Ethel, she was one of the few women --- Agnes Irwin was another---whom Mrs. Gardner would willingly tolerate on terms of equality. Joanna Davidge ran a fashionable girl's school in New York, and Caroline Sinkler---well, she was triumphantly herself, a native of Charleston who had come to be known by then as "the enchantress of Philadelphia." Henry Sleeper, architect and antiquarian, was on the verge of a career as one of the country's first interior decorators. As for Piatt Andrew, he was teaching economics at Harvard, and his articles in Frank Taussig's Quarterly Journal on the myriad banking problems of the time had already won him renown beyond the confines of Cambridge. Later, this group would be augmented by John Hays Hammond, Jr., a budding inventor, and Leslie Buswell, an itinerant Engllish actor.
It is not difficult to guess why Mrs. Gardner found this group appealing. For one thing, the absence of spouses or offspring suited the childless widow, who was understandably disinclined to revel in conventional domesticity. Moreover their conversation was as decorously barbed as her own. Their comments on the "customs affair" of the summer of 1908, for example, were not devoid of acerbity. Since Piatt Andrew was in Europe with Senator Nelson Aldrich at the time, Henry Sleeper relayed his neighbors' reactions to the fiasco in a letter to Andrew of August 20th:
The Transcript tonight has a column about Mrs. Gardner and the confiscation by Customs of her things. I went up to Green Hill for luncheon, as Y wanted me to take a look at her garden and of course I was agog to hear about the "smuggling." [Mrs. Gardner had long favored the initial Y for Isabella.] She says the arrival of the goods was a complete surprise to her, that she intended letting Mrs. Chadbourne keep the goods another winter, hoping for "tariff revision," that if she had intended getting them in she would have declared a value of at least $40,000, since any expert would know they were worth at least that. Mrs. Chadbourne evidently thought she could get them through as household furnishings and surprise Mr,. Gardner. She accomplished the surprise! I must tell you the comments of "Dabsville" on the affair. Miss Beaux,when I told her I was going to see Y, exclaimed "Oh! now we shall hear the truth'' with ironical accent. Miss Davidge remarked "Poor, dear Mrs. Gardner. I'm so sorry for her," and then in a softer voice, "Mr. Sleeper, the thing has a very ugly look about it, don'tyou think?" Miss Sinkler made no 'dig'---and seemed really sorry for her. I fancy it must be quite a financial blow to pay $150,000.
Sleeper's letter reached Andrew in Berlin, where he was assisting Aldrich in his efforts to conduct fact-finding interviews with foreign central bankers on behalf of the newly-created National Monetary Commission. In expressing immediate sympathy to Mrs. Gardner, Andrew circumspectly avoided telling her the gossipy source of his information on the subject:
I am awfully sorry that you have had all this beastly row about the Customs, of which I have read a little bit in the European papers. In the end it may help to call attention to our abominable tariff. The Senator seems to think something will be done before long. But meanwhile it is too mean that you should have all this bother and expense. It is simply, hideous. I should like to shoot somebody for you.
The duty on works of art was in fact set to zero a year later by the Payne-Aldrich Tariff Act of 1909, too late to help Mrs. Gardner.
Perhaps the strongest bond linking the group at Eastern Point to Mrs. Gardner was the gift for self-dramatization which often found expression in costume parties. "I was made to wear a robe of a Roman emperor, with jewelled filet, and seated on a throne of red velvet," Piatt Andrew reported on one such occasion. "Mrs. Gardner sat opposite on a less imposing throne of purple with a large Y in gold. The air of the studio was heavy with incense and tuberoses; the table was gorgeous with old rose damask and wreathes of fruit."
Such entertainments were theatrically designed and with painstaking attention to detail. Here is Piatt Andrew's account of the Easter festivities in 1909 at his house "Red Roof" on Eastern Point:
On Saturday Harry Sleeper and I went to Boston and got Mrs. Gardner and met Miss Whitney, followed the Harvard-Columbia boat race, and got down to Gloucester just about sundown. There were six fellows and the two ladies for dinner, which was served on a foot-high table in the new library. We all sat on the floor, and in the center of the table was a little fenced-in yard with two baby rabbits and eighteen small chickens. The walls and ceiling of the room were hung with Turkey red made up like a tent, in the top of which hung two flaming Roman lamps. On the sides of the tent were tiger and bear and leopard skins, which Harry had rented for the occasion, and other skins and skulls lay about on the stone floor. It was a dreamlike scene for us all, but especially for those who saw it for the first time when they were escorted in to dinner.
In such productions Andrew had proved an apt pupil of Mrs. Gardner herself, whose parties were also redolent with bizarrerie on occasion. As she had written him on September 26, 1908:
The Archbishop is coming to the Thanksgiving dinner, and everything will be as mediaeval as we can make it --- Falernian wines and Eels! Only not the latter please! But we will have a poison ring! & wind up with a Gregorian Chant.
While Harry Sleeper soon became a close confidant of Mrs. Gardner (and eventually one of the seven trustees of the property originally constituting the museum), her adoration was reserved for Piatt Andrew, whose meteoric rise in the ranks of the Taft administration she followed with breathless delight. When he was appointed Director of the Mint in 1909, she wrote him:
I am still thinking my sympathy in your work It is really splendid, this new position; and so splendidly won, by your own work---, & unsought for! As I said to Welldon this morning, I tingle with pride when I think of you. May you live long and prosper! You must always let me have a share in the glories that come to you, but you can't help yourself, for I will have a share in them by the best right, that of a loyal friend which you know I am, for all time.
For Andrew, of course, it was a delight to be able to introduce his new Washington friends to Mrs. Gardner, who adorned his Red Roof festivities and willingly greeted any visitors Andrew might send at the Fenway Court front door, a courtesy, she did not always extend to fellow Bostonians. In April 1911, when Senator Aldrich came to Boston to speak at the Hotel Somerset on behalf of "The Aldrich Plan" for a central bank, Andrew hit upon the idea of arranging a meeting between the Senator and Harvard Professors Taussig and Sprague at Fenway Court, and so Mrs. Gardner found herself presiding over a lengthy discussion devoted to the arcana of banking reform. Slightly more than a year later, after the Taft-Roosevelt contretemps had split the Republican Party at the top, Andrew was forced out of his position as Assistant Secretary by his superior, Treasury Secretary Franklin MacVeagh. Ironically, Mrs. Gardner was on friendly terms with MacVeagh, a Chicagoan and three years her senior. On the day after Andrew's departure was announced amid much public acrimony, Mrs. Gardner found herself in the company of the Secretary at a party given by the Bayard Thayers of Dublin, New Hampshire. She reported these events to Andrew on the evening of July 4th, 1912:
I got here yesterday P.M. just an hour before MacVeagh arrived A newspaper told me the news & I was telling the Thayers what I knew, when he (MacV) came in. This house has been given over to reporters, & telegrams and telephones ever since. There is a pageant going on here today . . . at every moment we had to discreetly talk about the pageant as McVeagh would keep coming to us. It is trying, very, for me, I can tell you.
Two years later, Andrew found himself contesting the congressional seat Augustus Peabody Gardner had held since 1902. In the autumn of 1913, Gardner had proclaimed his intention to relinquish this Sixth District seat after winning a surprise victory in the Republican gubernatorial primary. But after taking a pasting from David I. Walsh in the November elections, he thought better of it, for the Wilson administration offered him no prospect of an ambassadorship and Constance Lodge Gardner was by no means ready to retire to Hamilton. But Piatt Andrew, who had meanwhile announced his candidacy, was unwilling to back down, and a stiff primary fight ensued. Mrs. Gardner proceeded to infuriate her in-laws by backing Andrew against a family member, but Andrew was roundly beaten by the incumbent that September, a defeat that left him free to go off to war.
Andrew went on to found the American Field Service in France, and eventually to win, and hold for seven terms until his death in 1936, the congressional seat he had vainly sought in 1914. While organizing his ambulance service he had the copious and unswerving support of Mrs. Gardner, but unlike most of her younger friends. she stood above the germanophobic frenzy of the time. No doubt she had a deeper perception of the hidden ravages of the war to end wars.
She visited Eastern Point for the last time in July 1922. At Andrew's behest a carillon, the first in the United States, had been installed in Gloucester's Our Lady of Good Voyage Church and she made one of her final forays from Fenway Court to hear the bells played for the first time. But the costume party days were over. And so was the belle époque.