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Brooks, Romaine (1874-1970)  
 
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Brooks soon earned a reputation as an accomplished portraitist. Wealthy and renowned individuals began to request sittings. She first painted the influential Italian poet as Gabriel D'Annunzio, the Poet in Exile (1863-1938) in 1912. After he had become a national hero in World War I, she painted a second portrait of him entitled Gabriel D'Annunzio, Il Commandante (1916).

Brooks also painted a portrait of Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) before his rise to fame as a poet, novelist, critic, playwright, and artist.

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The Cross of France, a portrait of Ida Rubenstein, was executed near the beginning of World War I and exhibited at Georges Bernheim's gallery in 1915 as part of a benefit that D'Annunzio and Brooks organized for the Red Cross. In 1920, the artist received the Chevalier medal from the French Legion of Honor for this and other efforts on behalf of France.

Brooks met the woman who would soon become most important in her life in 1915 when she was forty-one. Natalie Clifford Barney (1876-1972), an American expatriate writer who had moved to Paris in 1902, was thirty-nine when the two women met. The daughter of painter Alice Pike Barney, she was already a brilliant conversationalist and would soon become the muse of a weekly literary salon that lasted from 1919 until 1968.

Even though Brooks did not enjoy such salons and Barney had numerous sexual relationships with other women, the women's relationship lasted for nearly fifty years.

Brooks benefited from Barney's salons in that she painted many of the people who frequented them. Her famous portrait Natalie Barney, L'Amazone (1915) depicts the author in feminine attire. A porcelain horse is included in the portrait as a reference to Barney's riding skills.

The author is described in the portrait's title as an Amazon, or woman warrior, for her efforts to re-establish the cult of Sappho in Paris during the first decade of the twentieth century. The painting is a daring declaration of Barney's sexual interests and a bold attempt to link the subject with lesbian history.

Brooks painted one more nude of Ida Rubenstein during 1916 and 1917. Entitled Weeping Venus, it appears to be a commentary on the loss of their relationship. Within three years Brooks painted a cross-dressed woman for the first time. In Renata Borgatti at the Piano (ca 1920), one of Brooks's lovers is shown as an androgynous person who deliberately invokes the cultural signs of "deviant" sexuality.

Three years later, Brooks painted her two most famous works. In her Self-Portrait (1923) she is cross-dressed, wearing a top hat that is too large and equestrian attire, with the emblem of the Legion of Honor flashing on her lapel. She blatantly and subversively appears as an aristocratic male dandy. In making this portrait the centerpiece of her 1925 exhibition, Brooks demonstrated her refusal to become an object of the heterosexual male gaze.

Her Self-Portrait was followed in the same year by her portrait entitled simply Una, Lady Troubridge (1923). Una Vincenzo Troubridge (1887-1963) had recently left her husband for Radclyffe Hall, who was to become the author of the most famous lesbian novel of the twentieth century, The Well of Loneliness (1928).

In this portrait, another depiction of a cross-dressed woman, Brooks uses the model of the male dandy, including bobbed hair, and a large monocle. The pose and eye-piece offer a humorous commentary on gender roles and also alludes to a lesbian bar in Paris named "L'Monocle."

Both Brooks's Self-Portrait and her portrait of Lady Troubridge were created as three-quarter length portraits. Visually one assumes that the two women who are portrayed in the paintings are wearing men's slacks, but in reality they usually wore tailored skirts. Exactly what the two women wore in their portraits is left to the viewer's imagination.

From 1923 to 1924, while Brooks was in England, she and the British artist Gluck (1895-1978) painted each other's portraits. Gluck, only twenty-eight at the time and still experimenting with her own identity, painted the older artist's portrait first.

Brooks did not care for the younger artist's work so it was never exhibited. Her portrait of Gluck, entitled Peter, a Young English Girl (1923-1924), however, was a success. The younger artist, who went by the name Peter before she used the name Gluck, cropped her hair and wore men's clothing. Brooks's portrait of "Peter" depicts a fine looking young person of indeterminate gender who sports a handsome suit, smart cravat, crisp white collar, and holds a man's hat in her right hand.

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