The Art of Acquiring Praise

“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.”
— HILLARY SPURLING,    AUTHOR OF THE ACCLAIMED BIOGRAPHY “THE UNKNOWN MATISSE” (KNOPF, 1998)   AND “LA GRANDE THERESE”

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 ON THE CONE SISTERS

A captivating biography that covers Gertrude Stein’s influence on the obscure sisters Etta and Claribel Cone, [their] tireless European travels to artists’ studios and galleries, and, most notably, the interdependence of collectors and artists. Reuters reporter Gabriel (Notorious Victoria, LJ 11/15/97) has given life to the Cone sisters … Highly recommended.
— LIBRARY JOURNAL

” 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.”
— PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY

The story of the Cone sisters is, in its way, quite important. Before the National Endowment for the Arts, people like Claribel and Etta Cone collected great art, providing both cash and cachet to artists who desperately needed them. Their story also proves that it doesn’t take an avant-garde personality to appreciate the avant-garde… to identify and support the first-rate art of their own time.
— THE WEEKLY STANDARD (lead review)

The Art of Acquiring is absolutely engaging. Gabriel’s portrait of Claribel and Etta Cone not only illuminates the sisters’ passion for collecting art, but it restores the truth about the powerful impact these women had in introducing modern art to the United States. The Cone sisters were as daring in life as they were in collecting art.
— KANDACE STEADMAN, ASSISTANT CURATOR OF EDUCATION, NATIONAL MUSEUM OF WOMEN IN THE ARTS

A most intriguing tale of the Cone sisters and their times. Mary Gabriel has painted a lively portrait, a colorful creation laced with dabs of everything from the lesbian liaison between Etta Cone and Gertrude Stein to a gripping description of the young, poor Picasso creating in a filthy underground hovel.
— BENNARD B. PERLMAN,  ARTIST AND AUTHOR OF THE LIVES, LOVES, AND ART OF ARTHUR B. DAVIES (1998)

“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

“Art of Acquiring is excellent. Not only is it well-written, and vividly captures the life of the Cone sisters, but is quite moving in places. I especially appreciated the way it interweaves the social and historical backdrop with the personal to clearly present the remarkable contribution of two sisters practically lost to, or obscured in, history. They may well have been the greatest and most important art collectors of the 20th century.”
–ELEANOR YULE,
DIRECTOR OF THE BBC DOCUMENTARY, MICHAEL PALIN ON THE CONE SISTERS

The Cone sisters: visionary art patrons, or suggestible ninnies? History has long held the latter view of Etta and Claribel Cone, whose large modern-art collection is the pride of the Baltimore Museum of Art. According to tradition, the regal, eccentric Dr. Claribel Cone and her mousy sister, Etta, had little artistic sense; they bought what their friends Gertrude and Leo Stein told
them to buy. That, at any rate, was the tale told late in life by the mercurial Gertrude Stein. And it stuck. But author Mary Gabriel offers a different picture of the Cone sisters in a new biography, The Art of Acquiring. Though they began life as sheltered members of Baltimore’s Jewish German bourgeoisie, the sisters grew more savvy during long stays in Paris, becoming independent — and important– collectors of early 20th century European art. In fact, Etta Cone’s gift to the art world was larger then merely her bequest to the museum. She 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 nauseatingly filthy hovel.

Etta continued to devotedly support Matisse’s work through the end of his life. In so doing, she helped make that body of work possible at all.
— BALTIMORE MAGAZINE

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