Claribel and Etta Cone were sisters and best friends who shared a love for travel and art. Together, they followed a passion for avant-garde art that belied their proper Victorian appearance. They befriended artists who were little known by peers and rejected by critics of the day, including Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, and traveled to Paris to visit galleries and artist studios.

Matisse would set out pictures in his Nice studio for the sisters to see, suggesting purchases to round out their collection. In 1930, one year after Claribel died, Matisse traveled to Baltimore to visit Etta in the Cone apartments. Matisse made six charcoal sketches of Claribel (whom he described as a “great noble and glorious beauty”) and one of Etta (described by Matisse as “a Queen of Israel”).

In 1935, Matisse sent Etta letters containing 22 photographs of his progress on the painting Large Reclining Nude. The artist painted and repainted the work over the course of six months. Of course, after watching it evolve, Etta bought the completed painting. The Cones collected more than 500 works by Matisse.

The sisters first began visiting Picasso at his studio in 1905 with Gertrude Stein. Etta picked out sketches. Sometime later, Gertrude Stein mailed the sisters a sketched self-portrait by Picasso with his message, “Bonjour Mlle Cone.” The Cones went on to collect 57 Picasso paintings, drawings and bronze sculptures.

Sources: Ellen B. Hirschland and Nancy Hirschland Ramage, The Cone Sisters of Baltimore: Collecting at Full Tilt (2008, Northwestern University Press, $34.95), Karen Levitov, Collecting Matisse and Modern Masters: The Cone Sisters of Baltimore  (2011, Yale University Press) and Jack Flam, Matisse in the Cone Collection: The Poetics of Vision (2001 Pennsylvania State University Press).