cover image The Art of Acquiring: A Portrait of the Cone Sisters, Matisse's True Discoverers

The Art of Acquiring: A Portrait of the Cone Sisters, Matisse's True Discoverers

Mary Gabriel. Bancroft Press, $29.95 (260pp) ISBN 978-1-890862-06-0

Art history traditionally concerns itself with the lives and creative processes of artists. But here Gabriel (Notorious Victoria: The Rise and Fall of Victoria Woodhull) focuses on ""the barely recognized link"" between modernist masters such as C zanne, Degas, Picasso and Matisse, and the largely forgotten art collectors Etta and Claribel Cone, wealthy--and stolidly Victorian--Baltimore sisters who, starting around the turn of the century, devoted their lives to amassing one of the largest and most remarkable collections of modern art in the world. Although neither Claribel, a sternly imposing physician, nor her retiring and unassuming sibling, seemed likely patrons of modernism, Etta secured the lifelong friendship of Matisse and Picasso while they still languished in poverty and obscurity. Frequently among the first to ""discover"" the artists who made history, the Cones are nevertheless usually portrayed as provincial spinsters who relied on family friends Gertrude and Leo Stein for guidance. 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. Photos not seen by PW. (June)