It’s Monday! What Are You Reading/Nonfiction Monday: Miss. Etta and Dr. Claribel-Bringing Matisse to America

It’s Monday What Are You Reading is hosted by Sheila at Book Journeys
Nonfiction Monday is hosted by Anamaria at  Books Together
One of the places I visited while on Spring  Break was the Ashmolean Library,  Oxford University’s museum of art and archeology.  The collection of paintings, and tapestries and artifacts was vast, too much to take in in one day; but I kept coming back to small exhibitions of personal collections – Tang dynasty vases, or silk screens or Japanese netsukes – that someone had painstakingly collected over a lifetime and then left to the museum so others could enjoy their beauty.  I was reminded of this book I had just finished reading before Spring Break: Susan Fillion’s Miss. Etta and Dr. Claribel-Bringing Matisse to America.
     Claribel and Etta Cone of Baltimore were two sisters who used their personal fortune to assemble a private collection of more than 3,000 works of art, including paintings by Picasso, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Cézanne, and over 500 works by Matisse.  The collecting began when Etta was given $300 to “spruce up the family home”  while on her travels in Europe.  Her family assumed she’d buy a lamp or two, perhaps a fancy Persian carpet – but Etta  had other ideas, and shipped home paintings by an unknown American Impressionist painter, Theodore Robinson.  Soon, her tastes widened with her travels, and she found willing and experienced teachers to guide both her and her sister (now a medical student) Claribel in their interest in art – Gertrude and Leo Stein.
     They met and befriended everyone from Picasso to Matisse – for whose art Etta in particular  had a strong and abiding interest.  Although they bought art wherever they traveled, neither sister saw themselves as art collectors.  “They simply bought what they liked, wearing the jewelry and woven shawls, and decorating their home with the rest. ‘I took beauty where I found it,’ Claribel remarked.”  
     Susan Fillion creates a fascinating story in this book, tracing the development of the sisters’ interest and awareness of art at just the time when painters like Picasso, Matisse and Gauguin were beginning to experiment with new ways of artistic expression.  Fillion’s careful and expressive explanations, as well as the many paintings illustrated in the book, tell a remarkable story.  Late in life, after many years of collecting, both sisters knew that they had a collection they needed to share with the rest of the world.  They wanted to leave it entirely to their “conservative” hometown museum – the Baltimore Museum, even though many other museums around the world were begging to own the collection.  The Cone sisters had their way, and all the works of art they traveled the world to find can be found exactly where they had wanted it to be seen. Here is a little glimpse into the collection: http://www.artbma.org/flash/coneflash.html.  
    I  can imagine sharing this lovely book with my students as a way to explore biography and the influence artists have on each other as they create new and exciting ways of perceiving and expressing their worlds.
    
The Cone sisters – Etta and Claribel

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8 thoughts on “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading/Nonfiction Monday: Miss. Etta and Dr. Claribel-Bringing Matisse to America

  1. It sounds like a wonderful story, and especially with all those paintings included. Wouldn't it be grand to travel around just sending back the art that pleases? I love that they seem so genuinely like good people, keeping the art for their hometown! Thanks, Tara-another book to place on my wish list!

  2. Thank you for beginning to share about your trip to England. I have never been there and will enjoy reading little parts about it in your blog. Sounds like a wonderful book-love the connections!!!

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