Exhibition Review: Collecting Matisse and Modern Masters: The Cone Sisters of Baltimore

Claribel Cone, Gertrude Stein, and Etta Cone in Settignano, Italy, June 26, 1903 The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Claribel and Miss Etta Cone Papers, Archives and Manuscripts Collection, CG.12

This last Saturday I finally found the time to visit the exhibition Collecting Matisse and Modern Masters: The Cone Sisters of Baltimore at The Jewish Museum. If you haven’t seen it yet, I truly recommend you do before it closes September 25th.

Sisters Dr. Claribel (1864–1929) and Miss Etta  (1870–1949) Cone of Baltimore were two of the twelve children of a German-Jewish immigrant couple Herman and Helen Cone (Khan). The Cones  made their fortune in grocery business and later in textile. Their Baltimore social circle included Gertrude and Leo Stein who not only immensely  influenced the sisters’ taste and art collection but also personally introduced them to Matisse and Picasso. The sisters became patrons of these two artists and dedicated their life to collecting art and beautiful objects.

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) Self-Portrait (Bonjour Mlle Cone), 1907 Pen and brown ink 8 5/16 x 5 1/2 in. (21.1 x 14 cm) The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Cone Collection, formed by Dr. Claribel and Miss Etta Cone of Baltimore, Maryland, BMA 1950.12.481 © 2011 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York Gift from Picasso to Etta Cone, January 7, 1908

According to The Jewish Museum’s website the collection, which was donated to the Baltimore Museum of Art in 1949, includes approximately  3,000 objects such as paintings, drawings, decorative art, jewelry and textiles the sisters acquired in their travels around the world. The sisters’ nephew Edward T. Cone is quoted describing their Baltimore’s Marlborough Apartments where the collection was housed as:

“really a collection of collections, and in the Marlborough one could see them all—if one had weeks to spend. There were pictures, to be sure: oils, water colors, drawings, prints. There were sculptures: marble, bronze, wood. There were rugs and furniture. There were laces, shawls, textiles and fabrics of all kinds. There were antique jewelry and objets d’art. And all these were used, they were enjoyed, they were lived with.”

The exhibition which occupy the museum’s ground floor is beautifully designed and the curators did a wonderful job in bringing to life the sisters’ unique identity and taste.  Each of the six rooms is either dedicated to a period or a theme from the collection. The wall texts are excellent, and although quite lengthy they are interesting, easy to read and highlight the key theme of each room (and this is from someone who hardly never reads more than the first few sentences of a wall text, at best).

Henri Matisse (French, 1869–1954) Standing Odalisque Reflected in a Mirror, 1923 Oil on canvas 31 7/8 x 21 3/8 in. (81 x 54.3 cm) The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Cone Collection, formed by Dr. Claribel and Miss Etta Cone of Baltimore, Maryland, BMA 1950.250 © 2011 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York Purchased by Etta Cone, September 1, 1923

Henri Matisse (French, 1869–1954) Large Odalisque with Striped Pantaloons, 1925 Crayon-transfer lithograph with scraping 28 1/16 x 22 11/16 in. (71.3 x 57.6 cm) The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Cone Collection, formed by Dr. Claribel and Miss Etta Cone of Baltimore, Maryland, BMA 1950.12.155 © 2011 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

It seems textiles  played important part in their life. The curators often remark on the sisters Victorian style of dress (in contrast to their  avant-garde taste in art), and some of the objects on display are remarkable Bobbin laces and textiles from around the world. It is also interesting to note that their favorite artist, Matisse, is known for his beautiful and expressive rendering of textile,  most obvious in his Odalisques. 

Black Chantilly Bobbin Lace Fan Leaf, 1908 France or Belgium Silk 23 1/2 x 8 in. (59.7 x 20.3 cm) The Baltimore Museum of Art: The Cone Collection, formed by Dr. Claribel and Miss Etta Cone of Baltimore, Maryland, BMA 1950.2010.21

The objects in the exhibition are a testament to the Cone Sisters passion and dedication. It underlines their visionary taste. The show is recommended to anyone who loves art, textile and beauty and to those who need reminding that following your heart can be very rewarding.

Etta Cone at age 18–19 wearing a riding outfit, late 1880s. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Claribel and Miss Etta Cone Papers, Archives and Manuscripts Collections, EC.1

Claribel Cone as a resident physician, Blockley Almshouse, Philadelphia, c. 1891–1892 Gilbert Studios, Philadelphia, PA The Baltimore Museum of Art: Dr. Claribel and Miss Etta Cone Papers, Archives and Manuscripts Collections, CC.2

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One Response to Exhibition Review: Collecting Matisse and Modern Masters: The Cone Sisters of Baltimore

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