Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Cone Collection at the Jewish Museum, NY

Last Wednesday LW and I saw at the Jewish Museum the special exhibition, "Collecting Matisse and Modern Masters: The Cone Sisters of Baltimore." Miss Etta and Dr. Claribel, as their friends called them, were introduced by their fellow Jewish Baltimoreans Leo and Gertrude Stein to Matisse in Paris. Like the Steins, they were avid collectors, financed first by their father's wholesale grocery business, and then by their brothers' hugely successful textile enterprise. Trained as a gynaecologist, Claribel became the Professor of Pathology at Baltimore Women's Medical College, and taught in both America and Europe. LW remarked on the near-invisibility of such accomplished women in the history of the USA held in most people's heads. Etta, six years younger, ran her father's household. She had a strong romantic attachment to Gertrude Stein. Both sisters remained unmarried to the end of their lives.

I enjoyed the exhibition mostly for the Matisse paintings and sculptures that I had not seen before. There were drawings that showed Matisse's deft draftsmanship, and bronzes of women's heads and one, which I liked particularly, of two negro women holding each other. The work was not big but it was massive. The paintings were the greatest draw for me. Interior, Flowers and Parakeets (1924). Seated Odalisque, Left Knee Bent, Ornamental Background and Checkerboard (1928). Large Reclining Nude (Pink Nude) (1935). Striped Robe, Fruit and Anemones (1940). Matisse was a canny promoter of his work too. Knowing that Etta intended to bequeath her collection to a major American museum, he sent her twenty-two photographs of Large Reclining Nude in progress, and so secured her interest to buy it. He wanted to be represented by a major work in the States.

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