By 1900, as Fenway Court slowly emerged along the Emerald Necklace, Isabella Gardner obtained a charter to form a museum corporation “for the purpose of art education, especially by the public exhibition of works of art.” She thought carefully about the placement of her collection from the very beginning of the construction process, marking the galleries on the architectural plans with the names of paintings and specific architectural elements. Arrangement of the galleries had to include a suitable backdrop on which to display her works of art and Gardner had very specific ideas for wall color. In March 1900 she wrote to art dealer Bernard Berenson, asking “…will you please some day, get on a piece of paper the blue colour that Bardini has on his walls. I want the exact tint. Perhaps some little person can paint it on a piece of paper.”
Stefano Bardini was a popular 19th century art dealer based in Florence, Italy, offering furniture, paintings and sculpture to buyers such as architect Stanford White and the Louvre Museum. Gardner purchased objects and furniture from Bardini and seems to have admired his own particular approach for displaying his collection which included sculptures by the della Robbia brothers and 15th century polychrome stuccoes. Bardini chose several shades of blue for his rooms, which inspired visitors to call his house – now a museum – the “Blue Museum.”*
Gardner wrote again to Berenson later in the year, “…When you get there (you are there) please do get me a piece of paper painted with the blue of Bardini’s walls. You know you promised me before. I am working hard over my new house.” Berenson writes back right away:
“I was most sincerely pleased to hear from you , after so long a silence – even tho’ you mildly scolded me for not having gotten you a sample of Bardini’s blue. The truth is that when you wrote about it last year, I saw Bardini about it directly. He solemnly assured me he would send it [to] you in a day or two….This time I went down and approached him. He was profuse in apologies, and to make sure that now you really got it, I told him to give it to me. I enclose it, the sample, and with it, the receipt for preparing it…” Here you see the original recipe and paint sample received by Gardner.
She was unrelenting in her pursuit of the right color, wondering if the paint chip was the correct color. “Did you compare them [the paint chip and wall]? In case you have not, will you kindly do so. I enclose a piece. The important [thing] is to get the tint exactly…”
Berenson assured Gardner that the color was the exact shade on Bardini’s walls and, to this day, the museum has continued to follow a similar formula (with the help of Benjamin Moore), in keeping with Gardner’s intent. Take a look at the wall treatments as you pass through the galleries…how do they suit the works of art displayed within each room?
*The Bardini Museum will reopen in March after being closed for a decade.