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Modern Magic

The lifelong passion of two Baltimore sisters for modern art is rekindled this month when the Naples Museum of Art opens the centerpiece of its fifth anniversary season on Feb. 4. (A special benefit gala takes place Feb. 3.)

Matisse, Picasso & Friends: Impressionism to Surrealism (subtitled Masterworks of French Painting and Sculpture From the Baltimore Museum of Art) pays homage not only to such masters as Matisse, Picasso, Degas, Van Gogh, Cezanne and Gauguin, but to the dedicated spirit of Claribel and Etta Cone, who amassed their collection over 40 years. Twenty-five of the works shown in Naples are from the world-famous Cone Collection; the exhibition features 35 paintings and 14 sculptures in all.

The Cones were born and raised in Baltimore, but eventually spent much of their time in Paris after becoming close friends with Gertrude Stein and her family in the late 1890s. It was Stein who introduced them to the leaders of the modern art movement; and the sisters, financially secure and well educated, soon developed an eye for quality and a close friendship with Matisse.

Etta, the longer-lived of the two, worked with Matisse to acquire many of his best pieces almost as soon as they were painted. Such masterworks as The Pewter Jug, The Pink Nude and Purple Robe were purchased in this way. Other highlights of the exhibition include Van Gogh's Landscape With Figures, Cezanne's Bathers and Picasso's Blue Period painting Woman With Bangs, dating from 1902.

The exhibition runs through May 1, with two special lectures set for March 3 and 4. The first welcomes Kenneth Silver of New York University discussing "Matisse and Picasso on the French Riviera"; the second offers John Elderfield of the Museum of Modern Art in New York reflecting on the famous Pink Nude. For more information, call 597-1900.

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