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August 2, 2011 3:32 pm

The Influence of the Jewish Women’s ‘Salon’

avatar by Maxine Dovere

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Pat Davidson, well known in Jewish literary circles, led a lively discussion focused on the importance of the Cone sisters and their collection. Photo: Maxine Dovere.

As each Rosh Chodesh approaches, “Moonbeams” begin their preparation for a study session honoring the beginning of the new month. Much in the tradition of the European “saloons” in which Jewish women widened their knowledge during the nineteenth and twentieth century, this group of multi-disciplined participants enjoys a wide ranging discussion, camaraderie, and shared experiences.

The “salon” has a long and powerful history in Jewish culture. Emily Bilski and Emily Braun, authors of The Power of Conversation, note that Jewish women’s salons served as welcoming havens where all classes and creeds could openly debate art, music, literature, and politics…Remarkable women of intellect resolved that neither gender nor religion would impede their ability to bring about social change.” Emancipated German Jewish women used the salon as a vehicle to enter German cultural life, creating venues in which Jews and non-Jews met to study art, literature, philosophy or music and enjoy “freely exchanged ideas.”

For several years, a group of women – at times, a dozen, often a multiple of that, united by the desire to study and understand the contributions of Jewish women to both Jewish civilization and the wider culture, have gathered in a modern day “salon” celebrating each Rosh Chodesh.  Topics have ranged from the tales of the Tanach to the effect of contemporary Jewish women’s social involvement and influence on political issues.

To celebrate Rosh Chodesh of Av, discussion turned to the Jewish Museum of New York’s exhibition of the Cone Collections.  Dr. Claribel and Etta Cone, collectors extraordinaire,amassed one of the most significant private collections of “modern” art.  Beginning in 1905, they acquired works of Matisse, Gauguin, Cezanne, Van Gogh and Picasso. While living in Paris, they participated in the renowned salons of Gertrude Stein, who they had met in Baltimore.  During the sisters’ extensive travels, they acquired a wide array of nineteenth and early twentieth century items of jewelry, textiles, and decorative arts of every description. Upon the death of Etta Cone in 1949, the collection was willed to the Baltimore Museum in its entirety.

Pat Davidson facilitated the evening’s discussion. The lively conversation followed the history of Jewish women and their “Salons,” from the earliest gatherings in Berlin in the late eighteenth century to the intellectual exchanges where Felix Mendelssohn, Marcel Proust, Oscar Wilde, Gustav Klimt, Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, Greta Garbo, and Gertrude Stein gathered to contemporary gatherings like Moonbeams.

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  • Susan Ford

    As an art historian doing some independent research on the Cone Sisters of Baltimore, I would be interested in material on their Saturday evening salons to which they evidently invited musicians, artists, intellectuals.
    I would be most grateful if you could direct me to where I might find some factual information on the subject.
    Thank you very much
    Sincerely,
    Susan Ford, Toronto

  • Joe

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