Gondola Days: Isabella Stewart Gardner and the Palazzo Barbaro Circle
At the end of the 19th century, a remarkable group of artists, writers and patrons gathered regularly at the Palazzo Barbaro in Venice, Italy. While Venice had long attracted wealthy tourists from across Europe and America, a particularly rich expatriate culture flourished at this time. In the 1880s, Daniel and Ariana Curtis of Boston purchased and restored the Palazzo Barbaro, where they lived in self-imposed exile. The Palazzo eventually became the center of a fascinating circle of American and English personalities living in Venice: the poet Robert Browning; Katharine de Kay Bronson of Newport, a writer greatly interested in local Venetian craft; Sir Austen Henry Layard, an archaelogist and an important collector of Renaissance paintings. Isabella and John Gardner, also of Boston, rented the Palazzo Barbaro every other year, beginning in 1884. A myriad of fascinating figures such as the painters John Singer Sargent, James McNeil Whistler, and Claude Monet; the connoisseur Bernard Berenson; writers Henry James, Paul Bourget, Vernon Lee, and a galaxy of socialites frequently joined this rich and culturally diverse group.