The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum opened to the public on the evening of January 1st, 1903, with a musical and visual arts celebration. Following an opening concert of Bach, Mozart, Chausson and Schumann performed by members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, mirrored doors were rolled back to reveal the spectacular interior courtyard, brimming with flowers and dramatically lit with Japanese lanterns. Surrounding the courtyard, galleries displayed art in a highly intimate and personal setting. The evening was a dazzling celebration of music, art, history, innovation and beauty. In the words of William James, “The aesthetic perfection of all things seemed to have a peculiar effect on the company…It was a very extraordinary and wonderful moral influence…Quite in the line of a Gospel miracle!”
Fenway Court, as the Museum was called at its inception, is the only private art collection in which the building, collection and installations are the creation of one individual. Isabella Stewart Gardner’s vision that the Museum remain as she arranged it “for the education and enjoyment of the public forever” is reflected in every aspect of the Museum. The Museum’s seal, designed by Isabella Gardner and Boston artist and designer Sarah Wyman Whitman, bears a phoenix (a symbol of immortality) above the phrase “c’est mon plaisir” (“it is my pleasure”).