Cone, Claribel and Etta

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Cone, Claribel and Etta

American art collectors.

Cone, Claribel (1864–1929). Born on November 14, 1864, in Jonesboro, Tennessee; died on September 20, 1929, in Lausanne, Switzerland; daughter of German immigrants; graduated from the Woman's Medical College of Baltimore, 1890; advanced training at Johns Hopkins University Medical School in Baltimore.

Cone, Etta (1870–1949). Born on November 30, 1870, in Jonesboro, Tennessee; died on August 31, 1949, in Blowing Rock, North Carolina; daughter of German immigrants.

Housed in a separate wing of the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Cone Collection is considered one of the world's great assemblages of modern art, especially the work of Matisse. The women responsible, Claribel and Etta Cone, were born in Jonesboro, Tennessee, daughters of German immigrant parents. They grew up in Baltimore, where they attended public schools before Claribel began studies at the Woman's Medical College of Baltimore. After her graduation, Claribel then interned in Philadelphia at the Blockley Hospital for the Insane. Returning to Baltimore, she received advanced training at the new Johns Hopkins University Medical School and researched there under Dr. William H. Welch. Claribel served as a pathology teacher at the Woman's Medical College until the school closed in 1910 and her medical career drew to its end.

Claribel and her sister Etta ran an informal salon that was open to artists, musicians, intellectuals, and professionals of the 1890s. Claribel was known for her eccentricities and her eye for antiques, while her sister Etta, the shyer of the two, was known for her cooking and her taste in art. Etta's interest in the French Impressionists can perhaps be traced to her acquaintance with Leo and Gertrude Stein , with whom the sisters were friends.

In 1896, Etta began purchasing paintings, and after the death of their parents the sisters had the funds to become ardent collectors. They began amassing in earnest from 1902. Their travels to Europe included visits to Stein's apartment in Paris where they came into contact with French contemporary art and artists. The purchase of their first Picasso in 1905 was followed by their first Matisse in 1906.

When World War I broke out in August of 1914, Claribel was in Munich, and she decided to remain there to avoid wartime travel. She made her way back to Baltimore in 1921. Upon her return, she rented another apartment in their building to serve as a private museum to house their collection, which came to include works of Renoir, Manet, Cézanne, Degas, and Bonnard. Accented with Renaissance furniture and textiles, the collection also contained many pieces by Matisse, an artist with whom Etta enjoyed an enduring friendship.

In 1929, Claribel died suddenly in Lausanne, Switzerland. In her will, she had bequeathed her portion of the collection to her sister. Etta, disconsolate over the loss of her sister, lived out a quiet life. She spent summers in Europe—particularly in Italy—wintered in Baltimore, and continued to care for their museum, which sometimes served as the site of small shows and concerts. When Etta died in 1949 at Blowing Rock, North Carolina, the Baltimore Museum of Art was given the Cone Collection and $400,000 for the new wing to be built for the purpose of housing it.

suggested reading:

Gabriel, Mary. The Art of Acquiring: A Portrait of Etta and Claribel Cone. Baltimore, MD: Bancroft, 1999.