Cora Timken Burnett was an heiress to the vast Timken ball-bearing manufacturing fortune. She was an ardent painter, sculptor, and antique collector, and was married to the famous osteopath and scientist Dr. John Clawson Burnett. The couple lived for twenty-five years on a fifty-five-acre estate in Alpine, New Jersey, overlooking the Hudson River. Cora designed all of the buildings, crafting them to fit the contours of the stone-swept landscape: their residence; a dining hall; a copper-roofed laboratory for her husband; for herself a pair of "igloo"-like studios; and other buildings. The larger buildings had curved corner columns with large stones set around the flared bases, giving the appearance of "elephant's feet." There was also a swimming pool lined with rocks and shaped like a coiled serpent. Toward the end of the Burnetts' lives, their idyllic estate began to be menaced by the Palisades Interstate Parkway, but only after their deaths did the State of New Jersey take over and raze their home.
Cora Timken Burnett was a collector who was particularly drawn to art from Persia, India, and China. When purchasing art, she often relied on the advice of dealers, such as her close friend Hagop Kevorkian, who was one of her main suppliers. Her husband shared with Cora this interest and passion for Asian art. Together they traveled to these distant lands and often returned with precious sculptures and objects, including a Hindu temple imported from India, which they used to decorate the buildings and landscape of their estate. From the time Burnett began collecting when she was in her forties, she developed a close relationship with the Museum and became a generous donor. In addition to her various gifts to the Met, Cora Timken Burnett's 1956 bequest included a selection of Indian sculptures, her entire collection of Persian miniatures, and other Persian objects.