Isabella Stewart Gardner had an eye for talent. That’s one of the reasons her museum is the remarkable place it is. Gardner relied on the most famous of art connoisseurs, Bernard Berenson, to advise her on acquisitions. She got the foremost portrait painter of the day, John Singer Sargent, to paint her portrait — not once but three times. And to document Fenway Court, the original name of what is now the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, she turned to Thomas and Arthur Marr.
The Marrs are the subject of Ron Polito’s exhaustively researched new book, “T. E. Marr (& Son): Isabella Stewart Gardner’s Photographers — and More.” Polito, now retired after a long career as professor and administrator at the University of Massachusetts Boston, is one of the deans of Boston photographic history.
The firm initially consisted of Thomas, then Arthur joined, and he continued it after Thomas’s death. The “More” part of the subtitle is extensive: portraits, marine and landscape photography, domestic architecture. If you owned an estate in Greater Boston at the turn of the last century, the Marr firm was likely your first choice to photograph it.
The firm’s association with Gardner, its chief claim to fame, began through that line of work. The connection started with Thomas taking photographs of both Gardner’s Beacon Street home and her “rural” estate in Brookline. Herself a serious amateur photographer, Gardner hired Thomas to document Fenway Court and its art. For the next 30 years, the Marr firm would exclusively photograph the interior and its many artworks.
“Cumulatively,” Polito said in an e-mail, “Thomas and Arthur Marr documented the properties of the privileged for almost half a century yet much of their work has slipped into the shadows. The elegance of their photography deserves rediscovery — along with a retrospective exhibition.” Perhaps at the Gardner Museum?
“T. E. Marr (& Son)” can be previewed and is available for purchase at: www.magcloud.com/browse/issue/1966356.
Mark Feeney can be reached at email@example.com.