Collecting Matisse and Modern Masters: The Cone Sisters of Baltimore

May 6 - September 25, 2011

Featuring over 50 works of art—by Matisse, Picasso, Gauguin, Renoir, van Gogh and more—from The Baltimore Museum of Art’s world-renowned Cone Collection, this exhibition focuses on the remarkable vision of two Jewish sisters and collectors, Dr. Claribel and Miss Etta Cone of Baltimore, and the personal relationships they formed with artists such as Matisse and Picasso, as they shaped their extraordinary collection.

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

Henri Matisse fondly called Dr. Claribel and Miss Etta Cone “my two Baltimore ladies.” The two Cone sisters began buying art directly out of the Parisian studios of avant-garde artists in 1905. Although the sisters’ taste for modern art was little understood—critics disparaged Matisse at the time and Pablo Picasso was virtually unknown—the Cones followed their passions and amassed one of the world’s greatest art collections including artworks by Matisse, Picasso, Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, and other modern masters.

The Cone Sisters Bought Paintings by Matisse, Picasso and Others

As daughters of prosperous German-Jewish immigrants, the Cone sisters were well-educated and widely traveled. In Paris, Claribel and Etta spent time with the doyenne of the Parisian avant-garde, Gertrude Stein, and her brother Leo, who influenced their collecting. The Steins introduced them to Picasso and Matisse and the sisters became friends and patrons of both artists. In travels across Europe and expeditions to Africa and Asia, they also acquired textiles and decorative arts.

Living with Art

The Cone sisters amassed an exceptional collection of approximately 3,000 objects, which were displayed in their Baltimore apartments. Their nephew Edward T. Cone described the ambience in their adjoining residences in Baltimore’s Marlborough Apartments 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.

Claribel and Etta Cone bequeathed their extensive collection of art and objects to The Baltimore Museum of Art upon Etta’s death in 1949.

The Exhibition

Collecting Matisse and Modern Masters: The Cone Sisters of Baltimore features over 50 of these works of art—including paintings, sculptures and works on paper by Matisse, Picasso, Gauguin, Renoir, van Gogh, Pissarro, Courbet and more—on loan from The Baltimore Museum of Art. In addition to modern masterpieces, the exhibition includes textiles and decorative arts from Europe, Asia and Africa that the Cones collected, as well as photographs and archival materials to highlight the remarkable lives of these Jewish sisters. Also featured in the museum galleries will be an interactive virtual tour of their adjoining Baltimore apartments, showing their remarkable collection as it was displayed in their home.

Karen Levitov
Associate Curator

Collecting Matisse and Modern Masters: The Cone Sisters of Baltimore is organized by The Baltimore Museum of Art, the Jewish Museum, New York, and the Vancouver Art Gallery.

The exhibition is sponsored by  
Major support is provided by the Emanuel and Riane Gruss Charitable Foundation; The David Berg Foundation; and the Leon Levy Foundation.
We gratefully acknowledge the following for their generosity: an anonymous donor in memory of Curtis Hereld; DLA Piper; EisnerAmper LLP; The Pierre and Tana Matisse Foundation; Rothschild Inc.; The Skirball Foundation; The Edward T. Cone Foundation; Shari and Jeff Aronson; W.P. Carey; The Charlesmead Foundation; Frank Crystal & Company; The Gottesman Fund; Guardsmark LLC; Traci and Mark Lerner; The Joseph and Harvey Meyerhoff Family Charitable Funds; Offit Capital Advisors LLC; and other donors.
The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Exhibition Fund and the Alfred J. Grunebaum Memorial Fund also provided important support.
This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.
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