Etta & Claribel Cone were born into a family of 12 children and their father built one of the largest grocery chains on the east coast. Claribel was the most gifted of the two and would go on to college to become a doctor. She did practice for a period but she would eventually decide to leave her practice and travel the world with her sister.
While at college Claribel would become friends with fellow classmate Gertrude Stein. The sisters would become lifelong friends with Gertrude and her two brothers. While on a trip in Europe, the sisters made a stop in Paris to visit the Stein’s and were introduced to the Stein’s large circle of artist friends. The sisters were already a massing an amazing collection of artwork through their travels. Their new Parisian friends would become iconic figures of the Paris Modern movement. From Picasso & Matisse to Paul Gauguin.
While their outward appearance was more spinster-like, the sisters were known for their great social skills and witty conversation. Yes, costume-wise their look is very lacking but the personalities were epic. Claribel was the more grandiose and sovereign of the two, while Etta was the social butterfly. Claims were that Etta’s free-lifestyle was grounded by Claribel’s eagle eye over her sister. The sisters always maintained separate living quarters but always in the same building or hotel. By WWI the sisters art collection was one of the largest if not the finest in the United States. At the time the number of Matisse’s in their collection outnumbered most collections in the world. At the time of Etta’s death in 1949, the sisters collection was more than 3000 pieces. The sisters bequeathed the collection to the The Baltimore Museum of Art.