The Art of Acquiring
A Portrait of Etta & Claribel Cone
By Mary Gabriel
(Bancroft Press, Hardcover, 9781890862060, 282pp.)
Publication Date: August 18, 2002
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Yet, for complex reasons, the story of the Cone sisters has never been fully or accurately told.
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.
Her first book, Notorious Victoria: The Life of Victoria Woodhull, Uncensored, was a New York Times Notable Book in 1998. Her second, The Art of Acquiring: A Portrait of Etta & Claribel Cone, is the definitive source on its subject.
A native of Minneapolis, and a longtime resident of Baltimore, 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.
"Gabriel focuses on the 'barely recognizable link' between modern masters such as Cezanne, Degas, Picasso, and Matisse, and the largely forgotten art collectors Etta and Claribel Cone, wealthy—and stolidly Victorian—Baltimore sisters who...devoted their lives to amassing one of the largest and most remarkable collections of modern art in the world. 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."
"A highly readable combination of insights on collecting, and fresh, well-rounded portraits of two remarkable collectors, whom she brings unforgettably to life . . . A tremendous help to us in preparing the Cone Sisters film."
--MICHAEL PALIN, HOST/PRODUCER, BBC DOCUMENTARY, “MICHAEL PALIN & THE LADIES WHO LOVED MATISSE”
"Mary Gabriel's tale of two sisters is a true romance. It is stranger than fiction, smoothly constructed, racily written, and especially touching in its portrait of the shy and retiring younger sister. The remarkable Etta Cone, who emerged late in life from the shadow of her majestic sibling Claribel, became one of this century's most unlikely pioneers, a figure of power and daring in her own right as well as a collector who came to mean more than any other to Henri Matisse. Both sisters, I hope, will now take their rightful place among the great visionary collectors of the twentieth century."
--HILARY SPURLING, AUTHOR OF THE ACCLAIMED TWO-PART BIOGRAPHY "THE UNKNOWN MATISSE" AND "THE MASTER MATISSE”
"In this century, galleries and museums have seen a marked rise in the appreciation of their role, as art lovers better recognize curators' skill in finding vibrant works, but there is still one neglected component in an artwork's journey from vision to opening night: the collector.Although a few collectors are remembered, most are largely forgotten in writings on art history, with space given to more luminous dealers or critics instead. Gabriel, a journalist who writes on arts topics, rights this injustice in a minor but crucial way by resurrecting the memory of Etta and Claribel Cone, two independently wealthy Jewish sisters from Baltimore who acquired one of the most important collections of modern French painting in the world. With sparkling prose, Gabriel traces the lives of the Victorian pair, from their privileged upbringing to the rise of their passion in collecting Picasso, Cezanne, Renoir, Degas, and Gaughin. Most striking is Etta's contribution to the life of Matisse, whose work she collected before anyone else even took him seriously, adorning her apartment's walls with his (at the time) scandalous nudes. Although neither sister married, and were considered by many of their circle to be rather uptight spinsters in dress and behavior, they collected with daring, indifferent to the shock of their contemporaries over the sensuality in the works they admired. When they died, the entire collection was given to the Baltimore Museum of Art. More than just a catalog of the sisters' collection, the book is also a lively and fascinating look into the lives of Victorian women and the constraints they had to overcome to achieve their desires. For anyone with an interest in art history, or just good storytelling, Gabriel's biography proves an excellent acquisition."
--FOREWORD MAGAZINE, THE MAGAZINE OF INDEPENDENT PUBLISHING (Elizabeth Millard)