Faculty Mentor

Dr. Kirstin Ringelberg

Subject Area

Art, History


It is commonly understood that women experienced art collecting differently from men around the turn of the twentieth century in the United States. Art collecting of quality and depth often required the ability to travel freely and make independent financial decisions, which excluded most women as well as middle- and working-class people and people of color. To understand the complexity of gender’s relationship to art collecting I have focused on the collecting narratives of Isabella Stewart Gardner and the Cone Sisters, Etta and Claribel. These individuals acquired a range of art, with Gardner primarily collecting Renaissance, Asian, and American Modern art and the Cones being collectors of French Modern art. Through a feminist historical lens I have used both archival and contemporary sources, in addition to site visits to the Cone Collection and Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, to examine and interpret the collections and histories of these individuals. The guiding question of my research has been whether women have collections or collecting narratives that differ from those of men. I have discovered that while women collectors during my time period of focus do share a genuine commonality in their gendered and comparatively less advantaged collecting narratives, that commonality does not suggest further relatedness or inherency in what or why they collected. Furthermore, I have observed that scholarship on women art collectors often compounds the gendered disadvantages seen in their histories by suggesting intrinsically shared qualities among them. I aim to present a new perspective on women collectors’ experiences and to critique gendered presentation of those individuals’ histories in contemporary scholarship.