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Journeys East: Isabella Stewart Gardner and Asia

by Alan Chong

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In 1883, Isabella Stewart Gardner and her husband embarked on a trip that would take them from Boston, across the Unites States and the Pacific, to Japan, China Cambodia and finally, the India of the Raj. Travelling in the wake of recent Western expansion into Asia, they were privileged guests in a world convulsed by colliding forces and identities. They visited ancient temples; met missionaries and colonial officials; toured rubble left but anti-Western riots; camped at Angkhor Wat but took first-class trains throughout India. Isabella kept a diary, bought photographs, and assembled a travel album. Back home, she became a pioneering collector of Asian art. 'Journeys East' reconstructs the Gardners' epic journey with illustrations from Isabella's albums and quotations from her diary and her husband's letters and notes. Isabella's evolving relationship to Asia is the subject of essays by Alan Chong, Noriko Murai, and Christine Guth, amoth other major authorities, that consider a broad range of topics, from the Japanese tea ceremony to her selection and display of Asian art at her extraordinary museum in Boston. A new kind of book, 'Journeys East' combines the history of travel and collecting with the study of East-West relations. Nearly all the 400 illustrations in this oversize book reproduce vintage photographs on her travels. In numerous instances, the photographs document sites long changed beyond recognition. The book will be of exceptional interest to readers of Joseph Conrad. ILLUSTRATIONS 400 illustrations… (more)
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Journeys East: Isabella Stewart Gardner and Asia recalls the spirit of Gardner's great museum-palazzo. It is a jumbled and brimming array, full of appealing crannies, rounded into arguable cohesion only by Gardner's formidable personality and distinctive taste, well worth perambulating in a mood of naïve wonder. This handsome coffee-table volume is both a catalogue of a 2009 exhibition that highlighted the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum's Asian collection and a voluminous – surely definitive – study of Gardner's evolution as a devotee of Asian culture. . . . Students of museum culture, nineteenth-century travel writing, and proto-modernist Orientalism will discover much to interest them in these pages. The real fascination, however, is Gardner herself. Journeys East commemorates her ardor and a certain nineteenth-century sinew long since gone soft.
 
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In 1883, Isabella Stewart Gardner and her husband embarked on a trip that would take them from Boston, across the Unites States and the Pacific, to Japan, China Cambodia and finally, the India of the Raj. Travelling in the wake of recent Western expansion into Asia, they were privileged guests in a world convulsed by colliding forces and identities. They visited ancient temples; met missionaries and colonial officials; toured rubble left but anti-Western riots; camped at Angkhor Wat but took first-class trains throughout India. Isabella kept a diary, bought photographs, and assembled a travel album. Back home, she became a pioneering collector of Asian art. 'Journeys East' reconstructs the Gardners' epic journey with illustrations from Isabella's albums and quotations from her diary and her husband's letters and notes. Isabella's evolving relationship to Asia is the subject of essays by Alan Chong, Noriko Murai, and Christine Guth, amoth other major authorities, that consider a broad range of topics, from the Japanese tea ceremony to her selection and display of Asian art at her extraordinary museum in Boston. A new kind of book, 'Journeys East' combines the history of travel and collecting with the study of East-West relations. Nearly all the 400 illustrations in this oversize book reproduce vintage photographs on her travels. In numerous instances, the photographs document sites long changed beyond recognition. The book will be of exceptional interest to readers of Joseph Conrad. ILLUSTRATIONS 400 illustrations

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