The world's largest collection of Matisse paintings was amassed by sisters Claribel Cone (1864-1929) and Etta Cone (1870-1949). Selections from this modern art collection, which also features famous artwork by Gauguin, Van Gogh,
Claribel Cone, Gertrude Stein, and Etta Cone. June 26, 1903. Settignano/Fiesole. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Cone Archives
Picasso, and Cezanne, are presently on display in "Collecting Matisse and Modern Masters: The Cone Sisters of Baltimore" at the Jewish Museum in New York.
The Cone sisters were two of 13 children from a wealthy family in the textile business, Cone Mills (a supplier of denim to Levi Strauss, among others). Etta and Claribel, one of the first female medical doctors in the U. S., became intrigued by modern art from their visits to Paris and friendship with Leo and Gertrude Stein (read about the famous paintings in the Stein collection and the Picasso painting Portrait of Gertrude Stein).
Although the Cones were old-fashioned in mannerism and dress (sporting full-length skirts after knee-length ones were in style), there was nothing old-fashioned about their early embrace of modern art. Between fall 1905 and winter 1906, the Cones befriended Matisse and Picasso, attended the Salon d'Automne, and purchased their first Matisse painting, Yellow Pottery from Provence, an unfinished piece dated 1905.
Although clearly a work of modern art, this painting is instantly recognizable as a still life, and is one of the subjects - including nudes, portraits and landscapes - included in the Cones' collection of 500 Matisse masterpieces. By the time the New York Armory Show of 1913 introduced modern art to the public at large, the Cones had already amassed a significant collection, including Yellow Pottery and works by Manet, Cezanne, Picasso and Renoir.
The Cones' purchased little artwork from 1906 to 1922, largely due to the world wars, but began in the 1920s to acquire Matisse paintings of odalisques, typically scantily-clad women in North African or Middle Eastern attire.
Henri Matisse, Seated Odalisque, Left Knee Bent, Ornamental Background and Checkerboard, 1928. Oil on canvas, 21 5/8" by 14 7/8". Collection of the Baltimore Museum of Art.
Matisse's 1912-1913 travels to Algeria and Morocco inspired these odalisque paintings, which dominated his work in the 1920s. Among these included in the show are Standing Odalisque Reflected in a Mirror and Seated Odalisque, Left Knee Bent. As daughters of a textile merchant, the Cones were clearly attracted by the vivid, ornate fabrics that hallmark these works.
Another Matisse painting from this era is Large Cliff with Fish. According to Claude Duthuit, Matisse's grandson, Etta
Henri Matisse, Large Cliff with Fish, 1920. Oil on canvas, 36 5/8" by 29". Collection of the Baltimore Museum of Art.
was repulsed by the image of so many dying fish; an impoverished Matisse countered that his daughter kept throwing water on the fish so they could be released at the painting's conclusion. Whether Etta believed this tale isn't known, but this Matisse painting is a part of the Cone Collection.
When it became apparent the Cones possessed the most extensive collection of Matisse artwork, he ensured that they received what he considered to be his best. Of Two Girls, Red and Green Background, 1947 - the last Matisse painting to enter the Cone Collection - Matisse said, "I am certain that it will be seen as one of my best paintings."
It's a beauty, and one of many reasons to see this show and to visit the Baltimore Museum of Art.
Henri Matisse, Two Girls, Red and Green Background, 1947, Baltimore Museum of Art: The Cone Collection
Collecting Matisse and Modern Masters will be at the Jewish Museum until 25 September 2011.