Natalie Dykstra at Harvard Book Store


Chasing Beauty:
The Life of Isabella Stewart Gardner

in conversation with MEGAN MARSHALL


June 18, 2024
7:00 PM ET


Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138


This event is free; no tickets are required.

Harvard Book Store welcomes NATALIE DYKSTRA—award-winning author of Clover Adams: A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life and Charles Wesley Emerson Professor at Emerson College—for a discussion of her new biography Chasing Beauty: The Life of Isabella Stewart Gardner. She will be joined in conversation by MEGAN MARSHALL—Pulitzer Prize winning author of Margaret Fuller: A New American Life, The Peabody Sisters, and Elizabeth Bishop: A Miracle for Breakfast.

About Chasing Beauty

Isabella Stewart Gardner’s museum, with its plain exterior enfolding an astonishing four-story Italian palazzo, rose from Boston’s Fens at the turn of the twentieth century. Its treasures encompassed not only masterwork paintings but tapestries, rare books, prints, porcelains, and fine furniture.

An extraordinary achievement of storytelling and scholarship, Chasing Beauty illuminates the fascinating ways the museum and its holdings can be seen as a kind of memoir, dazzling and haunting, created with objects instead of words and displayed per Isabella’s wishes in the exact placements she initially curated.

Born in 1840 to a privileged New York family, Isabella Stewart married Boston Brahmin Jack Gardner as she turned twenty. She was misunderstood by Boston’s insular society and suffered the death of her only child, a beloved boy, not yet two years old.

But in time came friendships, glittering and bohemian; awe-inspiring world travels; and collecting beautiful things with a keen eye and competitive pace—all these were balm for loss. Henry James and John Singer Sargent—whose portrait of Isabella was a masterpiece and a scandal—came to recognize her originality. Bernard Berenson, leading connoisseur of the Italian Renaissance, was her art dealer.

From award-winning author Natalie Dykstra, Chasing Beauty is the story of the complex and singular woman behind one of the most fascinating museums in the nation and the world—a tale of beauty and loss, grit and American self-invention.

Praise for Chasing Beauty

“Isabella Stewart Gardner has found the ideal biographer in Natalie Dykstra, who gives Gardner, her nerves of steel, her expert eye, and her singular curiosity their due in this wise, sparkling book.” —Stacy Schiff, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams and Cleopatra: A Life

“Natalie Dykstra has written an absorbing, deeply researched biography that is also a travelogue, Edwardian period drama, and art history primer, with a supporting cast that includes Henry James, John Singer Sargent, Edith Wharton, and Henry Adams. In these pages, Isabella Stewart Gardner comes to life as a feminist pathbreaker finally given her due—and an artist in her own right.” —Heather Clark, author of Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath

“The complex, magnificent life of Isabella Stewart Gardner pours through the pages of Natalie Dykstra’s wonderful, definitive biography. Gardner left an incomparable legacy; at long last, she has found a biographer who can match her in range, profundity, and eye for detail. It is thrilling to watch the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum rise again in this powerful, timely book.” —Rachel Cohen, author of A Chance Meeting: American Encounters

Masking Policy

Masks are encouraged but not required for this event.

Megan Marshall
Megan Marshall

Megan Marshall

Megan Marshall is the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Margaret Fuller: A New American Life, The Peabody Sisters, and Elizabeth Bishop: A Miracle for Breakfast.  In addition to the Pulitzer Prize, her work has been awarded the Francis Parkman Prize, the Mark Lynton History Prize, the Massachusetts Book Award in Nonfiction (twice) and the BIO Award, the highest honor given by the Biographers International Organization to a writer who has advanced the art and craft of biography. A past president of the Society of American Historians, Marshall is the Charles Wesley Emerson Professor at Emerson College where she teaches in the MFA Creative Writing Program.  Her new book of essays, After Lives: A Biographer’s Memoir, will be published in February 2025.

Photo Credit: Sarah Putnam

Natalie Dykstra
Natalie Dykstra

Natalie Dykstra

Natalie Dykstra is the author of Clover Adams: A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life. Her work on Isabella Stewart Gardner has won a Public Scholars Award from the National Endowment for the Humanities and an inaugural Robert and Ina Caro Research/Travel Fellowship sponsored by the Biographers International Organization (BIO). Dykstra, emerita professor of English at Hope College in Michigan, lives with her husband in Waltham, MA. 

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