The Spirit of Appreciation
by Christine Jackson
Published October 13 in Baltimore Magazine
Excerpt: Today, it’s hard to imagine the BMA without the Cone Wing, which houses some of the best examples of modern art in the world. But it had to earn it. The Baltimore that existed between the World Wars was conservative to the point that Claribel used her will to call out what she saw as a lack of vision: “It is my suggestion, but not a direction or obligation upon my said Sister, Etta Cone, that in the event the spirit of appreciation for modern art in Baltimore becomes improved . . . that said Baltimore Museum of Art be favorably considered by her as the institution to ultimately receive said Collection.” In short, unless Baltimore learns to appreciate it, send the whole lot elsewhere.
Luckily, that spirit of appreciation for the Cone Collection, and the sisters themselves, missing at the time of Claribel’s death in 1929, has grown to canonization. But it was a long time coming. Even longer for Etta, who was for decades characterized as a purchaser of “pretty paintings” in contrast to her sister’s proclivity for bold moves and major purchases.
“I find the Cone Sisters to be an incredible model and inspiration for the future of Baltimore,” says Cara Ober, the founding editor and publisher of BmoreArt. “These were collectors who invested for a lifetime in the artists they believed in . . . who weren’t particularly famous at that time. As a result of their patronage and support, these artists became the world-renowned figures that they are today. [The Cone Sisters] were visionary risk-takers who invested in the artists they personally believed in, and this belief was a catalyst for the worldwide success of these artists, and the reason that the BMA is host to a spectacular and world-class Matisse collection.”
Now, that collection is the subject of a new exhibition, A Modern Influence: Henri Matisse, Etta Cone, and Baltimore, covering scores of paintings, sculptures, and works on paper that track the development of Matisse as an artist and Etta as a collector. Final touches are also being put on the long-awaited Ruth R. Marder Center for Matisse Studies at the BMA, opening in December. Built around Claribel and—especially—Etta’s collected works, the Center for Matisse Studies will position Baltimore as one of the premier places in the world to study and engage with the artist’s work.