Thursday, August 20, 2009

Claribel Cone, Gertrude Stein, Etta Cone, 1903

I'm taking a few days off from work & decided to spend yesterday afternoon at the Baltimore Museum of Art. Since I'm a decorative arts fan, I wandered around the Dorothy McIlvain Scott wing & period rooms for quite a while, but I also had to visit the Cone collection, which is my favorite part of the museum.

Baltimore sisters Dr. Claribel Cone & Etta Cone came from a well-to-do Jewish family & lived lives that would be considered somewhat unusual even now, but were quite shocking back then. Neither ever married or had children, & they befriended & supported some of the most Bohemian artists of their time. Claribel became a doctor at a time when many considered such a course of study unnatural in a female. Even many physicians of the era, such as Dr. Edward Clark, thought that excessive education caused women's brains to use up blood that was needed for menstruation. Etta greatly admired her sister's medical career, although she had no such ambitions herself. She tended the family home on Eutaw Place & seemed to have no great passions until her brother gave her $300 to decorate the family home. The "Impressionistic" Theodore Robinson paintings she purchased with the money scandalized her family. For Etta, a lifetime of collecting had begun.

I've long been curious to know more about the Cone sisters, so after yesterday's visit to their collection, I stopped in the BMA Shop & bought "The Art of Acquiring" by Mary Gabriel. Ms. Gabriel is a journalist who also attended the Maryland Institute College of Art, right here in town, & her knowledge of & connection to Baltimore really come through in her writing. Since they collected jewelry, textiles, & many other objects in addition to fine art, it seems that some have, unfortunately, come to see denigrate the Cone sisters as mere "shoppers". Ms. Gabriel asserts that, had the sisters been men, they would not have received such a label, & I think she makes an excellent point. I've never heard William or Henry Walters referred to in such terms. At any rate, I'm very much enjoying Ms. Gabriel's book & highly recommend it.

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