The Art of Acquiring: A Portrait of the Cone Sisters, Matisse's True Discoverers

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Overview

For four and a half decades, Etta and Claribel Cone roamed artists' studios and art galleries in Europe, building one of the largest, most important art collections in the world. At one time, these two independently wealthy Jewish women from Baltimore received offers from virtually every prominent art museum in the world, all anxious to house their hitherto private assemblage of modern art. In 1949, they awarded all their holdings to the Baltimore Museum of Art. In 2002, that collection was valued at nearly $1 billion, making them two of the most philanthropic art collectors of our age.

Yet, for complex reasons, the story of the Cone sisters has never been fully or accurately told. Gertrude Stein suggested in her writings that the mousy Etta and the regal Claribel had little artistic sense of their own, buying only what she and Leo Stein advised them to buy. For most of those 45 years, though, the savvy Cone sisters knew exactly what they were doing, and why. But they thought it undignified in life or death to call much attention to themselves, always emphasizing that the art, not its collecting, mattered most.

Mary Gabriel, an art-minded journalist and women's historian, has, at long last, brought the little-known sisters to life, and shone the spotlight on their remarkable achievements.

That these two upright, Victorian women led the way in purchasing the scandalous, erotic art of Matisse, Picasso, and others, is itself one of the most fascinating yet incongruous aspects of their story. Etta and Claribel Cone supported the 20th century's revolutionary artists from their impoverished beginnings--when Henri Matisse, for example, was reviled by critics as a "wild beast," and Pablo Picasso scratched out a living in a hovel. By contributing to the livelihood of avant-garde artists in whom they deeply believed, the sisters helped coax out, then preserved some of the greatest art of the modern era.

Though it intimately portrays two powerful, influential, ahead-of-their-time women, The Art of Acquiring is more than a tale of two sisters, more than an important addition to art history, and more than a major contribution to the study of women's history. Because it reproduces some of the more famous and important art of Matisse, Picasso, Cézanne, Dégas, and others, The Art of Acquiring enables readers to practically step through the canvas and live in the shocking paintings these two unsung sisters purchased, then gave to the world-at-large.

Finally, a lovely, absorbing biography of the neglected Cone sisters!

About the Author:

Mary Gabriel, currently based in London, works as a reporter and editor for the world desk of Reuters News Service. Previously, she was executive editor of Museum & Arts Washington magazine, which won a national MagazineWeek award for excellence in Art and Literature during her tenure. Prior to that, she served as editor and reporter for United Press International, and as a reporter for the Baltimore News American newspaper.

Her first book, Notorious Victoria: The Life of Victoria Woodhull, Uncensored, was a New York Times "Notable Book" in 1998.

She holds a Diplome from the University of Paris at the Sorbonne, a Bachelor's of Fine Arts from the Maryland Institute College of Art, and a Master's Degree in Journalism from American University.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Art history traditionally concerns itself with the lives and creative processes of artists. But here Gabriel (Notorious Victoria: The Rise and Fall of Victoria Woodhull) focuses on "the barely recognized link" between modernist masters such as C zanne, Degas, Picasso and Matisse, and the largely forgotten art collectors Etta and Claribel Cone, wealthy--and stolidly Victorian--Baltimore sisters who, starting around the turn of the century, devoted their lives to amassing one of the largest and most remarkable collections of modern art in the world. Although neither Claribel, a sternly imposing physician, nor her retiring and unassuming sibling, seemed likely patrons of modernism, Etta secured the lifelong friendship of Matisse and Picasso while they still languished in poverty and obscurity. Frequently among the first to "discover" the artists who made history, the Cones are nevertheless usually portrayed as provincial spinsters who relied on family friends Gertrude and Leo Stein for guidance. Gabriel ably demonstrates that conventional wisdom has robbed the Cone sisters of credit for their own lively and often iconoclastic aesthetic sensibilities. By inviting us to view early 20th-century painting through the Cones' eyes and by adeptly weaving the threads of their life stories into the larger fabric of the social and artistic history of their time, Gabriel complicates our understanding of the inner lives of these outwardly conventional women and of the relationship between art and its audience. Photos not seen by PW. (June) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Heiresses to a family fortune, Etta and Claribel Cone, Jewish sisters from Baltimore, amassed a major collection of modern French artworks. Their Victorian demeanor and dress belied two free-spirited eccentrics whose bold purchases of avant-garde, sometimes erotic art shocked early 20th-century society. They bought what pleased them, jamming their Baltimore apartments with paintings by Matisse, Picasso, C zanne, D gas, Van Gogh, Manet, Redon, Pissarro, and others. Reuters reporter Gabriel (Notorious Victoria, LJ 11/15/97) has given life to these obscure sisters in a captivating biography that covers Gertrude Stein's influence, tireless European travels to artists' studios and galleries, and, most notably, the interdependence of collectors and artists. Sought after by leading museum directors, their collection, described in Brenda Richardson's Dr. Claribel and Miss Etta (1985), was bequeathed to the Baltimore Museum of Art. Highly recommended.--Joan Levin, MLS, Chicago Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The story of how two spinster sisters from Baltimore acquired a remarkable collection of the sensual, avant-garde paintings of early 20th-century artists: Matisse, Picasso, Gauguin, and others. Their biographer, a former Reuters reporter and editor, is also the author of a life of Victoria Woodhull (1998). The Baltimore Museum of Art's Cone collection and the wing that houses it is the legacy of Dr. Claribel and Etta Cone, among the heirs to a family fortune based in part on textile manufacture. Etta was dedicated to caring for her extended family; Claribel was the more adventurous, graduating first in her class from medical school in 1890. The sisters came to know Leo and Gertrude Stein during the Steins' early sojourn in Baltimore; intrigued by the Steins' reports of their hedonistic summers in Europe, Etta set sail for Italy in the spring of 1901 and alternated between Baltimore and Europe for the rest of her life; her friendships with and support of artists, particularly Matisse, were to continue as long. Claribel too turned from science to art, after sticking it out as a medical researcher in Germany through the beginning of Hitler's rise. The sisters' separate apartments in Baltimore were filled not only with paintings, prints, drawings, and sculptures but also with fabrics, jewels, and artifacts collected from around the world. After Claribel's death in 1929, Etta set out to fill the gaps in the collection and published an illustrated book of works that she owned, by then including Cézanne, Renoir, and Degas, among many others. Etta died in 1949, following the purchase of yet another Picasso. A pleasant addition to the Baltimore Museum's gift-shop offerings,perhaps, but this slight romance of two sisters in Paris when artistic ferment was at its height offers little real insight into collecting or the collectors. (16 pages b&w, 16 pages color photos, not seen)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781890862060
  • Publisher: Bancroft Press
  • Publication date: 9/8/2002
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 260
  • Sales rank: 1,257,018
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

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