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The Boston Globe

Arts

Isabella Stewart Gardner was ‘the brightest, breeziest woman in Boston’

“A fairy in a machine shop” was how the essayist John Jay Chapman described her.

ISABELLA STEWART GARDNER, the novelist Henry James once said, “is not a woman, she is a locomotive - with a Pullman car attached.’’ James, who introduced her to John Singer Sargent, two of whose portraits of her hang in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, considered himself a friend. Imagine how Gardner’s detractors must have felt.

Gardner was that vivid a personality. It comes as no surprise that she and the actress Sarah Bernhardt were mutual admirers. As a New York society magazine described her in 1887, Gardner was “the brightest, breeziest woman in Boston.’’ She was “the idol of the men and the envy of the women.’’

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