“Creativity takes courage.” Henri Matisse
Henri Matisse fondly called them “my two Baltimore ladies.” Etta and Claribel Cone were captivated by Henri Matisse. No one could match their enthusiasm, which was underscored by the monetary means provided by the Cone brothers: Moses and Ceasar.
The Cone brothers had a knack for generating wealth, a talent inherited from their parents: Herman (Kahn) Cone and Helen (Guggenheimer) Cone. Herman and Helen emigrated from Germany to the United States in 1845, settling in Jonesboro, Tennessee, where they opened a successful grocery store. The first five of their twelve children, which included Etta and Claribel, were born in Jonesboro before the family moved to Baltimore, Maryland in 1871.
The oldest Cone brothers, Moses and Ceasar relocated and established a textile business in Greensboro, North Carolina. Their business acumen was rewarded when the U.S. military chose their company to be the main supplier for the U.S. military during WWI. As well, they became the largest provider of denim for Levi Strauss. The Cone brothers were, in effect, the financial backers of the Cone sisters. Etta and Claribel, on their second trip to Paris in 1922, had the buying power to fill seven crates of art to ship home, which was over and above their personal luggage that required them to arrange for additional space on their return trip.
We can thank the Cone sisters for their tenacity in collecting, but we must also thank the Cone brothers who generously supported and encouraged their sisters’ pursuit of beauty. Henri Matisse said that “creativity takes courage.” It also takes courage to accumulate artistic forms that are not embraced within mainstream society. In the end, however, it takes money to sustain creative endeavours. Without financial backing, an artist must make alternative plans for making a living.
Etta and Claribel Cone brought together a remarkable art collection that numbered 3,000 pieces. Over 500 of these were created by Henri Matisse – now recognized as the largest and most complete private collection of his work. We marvel at the insight, the circumstances and the fortunes that fashioned this happy ending; yet, what draws our interest and imagination is the profound and deeply moving friendship between an artist and two sisters that lasted a lifetime.
“I have always tried to hide my efforts and wished my works to have a light joyousness of springtime which never lets anyone suspect the labours it has cost me.” Henri Matisse