Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Shaping Identity: Isabella Stewart Gardner, Art Collecting, and the Gilded Age
by Mckinzie, Megan, M.A., Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, 2014, 89; 1584582
Abstract (Summary)

SHAPING IDENTITY: ISABELLA STEWART GARDNER, ART COLLECTING, AND THE GILDED AGE by MEGAN MCKINZIE Chairperson: Dr. Carole Frick Establishing what makes-up a person requires an understanding of the culture of which they were a part, including their connection to a nation, state, or kingdom, their station within society, their religious beliefs, and society's rules for men and women. One way to examine someone's sense of self is to look at what they own. The material culture surrounding a person will show what they enjoy, what is important to them, and what is accepted by society. Men and women experience the world differently, consequentially creating identities that vary. The culmination of outside forces and the will of an individual to either accept or deny them, result in the creation of an individual. Isabella Stewart Gardner is an excellent example of this process. The Gilded Age placed severe restrictions upon women. Gardner flouted them. She chartered her own course by collecting paintings, music, and manuscripts without the aid of her husband. More than just amassing objects, she acted as patron to many artists, musicians, and writers. She gave them money, gifts, and advice on their works. In a way, Isabella revived the masculine, Renaissance practice of influencing the cultural fabric through patronage, which was unusual for a female - - during the Renaissance or the Gilded Age. As she participated in these endeavors, she crafted a unique persona that stood out from the other women and men that were her contemporaries at the turn of the twentieth century. In the first chapter, the introduction, I discuss the importance of gender in the creation of someone's identity, how gender identity fits within the niche of identity formation in the field of history, and how Isabella interacts with the established historical narrative. After the introduction, in the second chapter, I examine Isabella specifically in order to see how she herself stands apart from the Gilded Age conventions. In the third chapter I look at her contemporaries, Bertha Palmer, Louisine Havemeyer, J. P. Morgan, and Henry Clay Frick. I will compare how Gardner to both men and women of the same social class and of similar wealth in order to illustrate how she incorporated characteristics of the male and female roles in her own identity. In the fourth chapter, I present Isabella Stewart Gardner's museum, Fenway Court. Its foundation was the culmination of her process of identity formation. It is the physical manifestation of who she was. By looking at the different roles of men and women during the Gilded Age, the importance of collecting, and the function of museums in society, this study suggests that Gardner created a liminal identity, straddling the masculine and feminine worlds, through her collecting habits.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Frick, Carole
Commitee: Fowler, Laura, Poole-Jones, Katherine
School: Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville
Department: Historical Studies
School Location: United States -- Illinois
Source: MAI 54/03M(E), Masters Abstracts International
Subjects: American history, Art history, Gender studies
Keywords: Art, Boston, Gilded age, Identity, Renaissance, Women
Publication Number: 1584582
ISBN: 9781321590678
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