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Brooks, Romaine (1874-1970)  
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After painting Peter's portrait, Brooks built a house with Natalie Barney at Beauvallon, France, near St. Tropez. To preserve their independence, the structure consisted of two wings that were united by a dining room.

Brooks's career reached its zenith in 1925 with three exhibitions of her work. The first was in Paris at the Galerie Jean Charpentier from March through April. The show traveled to the R. B. L'Alpine Club Gallery in London during June and ended in December at the Wildenstein Galleries in New York.

While the exhibitions of 1925 were successful, Brooks painted few works after this time. She did, however, create two illustrations for Barney's book entitled The One Who Is Legion; or, A. D.'s After-Life. The book, about one person who had several different identities, was privately published in a limited edition of 450 copies in London during 1930.

During the same time, the artist began an autobiographical manuscript entitled No Pleasant Memories that, although composed over the next twenty years, was never published. One exhibition of Brooks's oeuvre was held at Galerie Théodore Briant in Paris during May 1931.

In the early 1930s, Brooks was haunted by childhood memories that led her to draw more than one hundred pen and ink works. These curious pieces consist of an intertwined single line that seems to symbolize Brooks's dependency and separation issues.

In the drawing, Caught (1930), for example, all the figures are entangled. Another drawing entitled The Impeders (1930) depicts a figure attempting to escape from enmeshed individuals. What the Saint Heard and Saw (1930) appears to illustrate the voices heard and visions seen by the artist's mentally ill brother.

A series of Brooks's drawings were exhibited at the Arts Club of Chicago in January 1935. Brooks traveled to America for the show and in 1936 rented a studio in Carnegie Hall, New York City, where she executed a portrait of the bisexual novelist and photographer, Carl Van Vechten (1880-1964). A portrait of the internationally known society hostess, lecturer, and writer Muriel Draper (b. 1886) followed two years later.

In 1939, as World War II began in Europe, Brooks returned to France to live with Barney in Villa Beauvallon. When the house burned in 1940, Brooks retreated to Italy, where she purchased Villa Sant'Agnes outside Florence. She wrote another unpublished memoir about these years entitled A War Interlude, or On the Hills of Florence during the War.

After World War II, Brooks faded from public life. Her artistic output ceased and she lived in isolation. She purchased the smaller Villa Gaia in Fiesole, where she remained until 1967. Amazingly, Brooks took up her brush again at the age of eighty-seven to paint a portrait of Umberto Strozzi (1961), a descendent of the famous Renaissance family.

In 1967, Brooks took a studio apartment in Nice. Within two years, Natalie Barney confessed that she had had an affair with another woman for the past seven years. This confession devastated Brooks, who could no longer cope with the hurt and jealousy she felt toward Barney, so she ended their long relationship.

Having grown increasingly eccentric while living in isolation, Brooks died alone at the age of ninety-six on December 7, 1970. Natalie Barney died two years later in Paris, having also reached the age of ninety-six.

Brooks's artistic legacy was honored with a retrospective exhibition entitled Romaine Brooks, Thief of Souls in 1971 at the National Collection of Fine Arts (now the National Museum of American Art). She had given her collection and private papers to the museum before her death. The same exhibition traveled again in 1980 under the title Romaine Brooks, 1874-1970. Individual works by Romaine Brooks were also included in numerous group exhibitions as art began to be studied through a feminist lens in the 1980s.

Most recently, in 2001, the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. devoted a one-woman exhibition to Brooks's work entitled Amazons in the Drawing Room. It was the first time that a museum publication examined Brooks's lesbianism in relation to her art. At last, scholars are willing to see what Brooks made visible in life-sized paintings as long ago as the turn of the last century.

Ray Anne Lockard

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Breeskin, Adelyn Dohme. Romaine Brooks. 2nd ed. Washington, D.C.: dist. for the National Museum of American Art by the Smithsonian Institution Press, 1986.

Chadwyck, Whitney. Amazons in the Drawing Room. Essay by Joe Lucchesi. [Exhibition: June 29-September 24, 2000, National Museum of Women in the Arts; October 11, 2000-January 21, 2001, Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive, University of California at Berkeley] Chesterfield, MA: Chameleon Books; Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.

Elliott, Bridget. "Performing the Picture or Painting the Other: Romaine Brooks, Gluck and the Question of Decadence in 1923." Women Artists and Modernism. Katie Deepwell, ed. New York: Manchester University Press, 1998. 70-82.

Langer, Cassandra. "Transgressing Le droit du seigneur: The Lesbian Feminist Defining Herself in Art History." New Feminist Criticism: Art-Identity-Action. Joanna Frueh, Cassandra Langer, and Arlene Raven, eds. New York: HarperCollins, 1994. 306-326.

Lucchesi, Joseph Edward "'The Dandy in Me': Romaine Brooks's 1923 Portraits." Dandies: Fashion and Finesse in Art and Culture. Susan Fillin-Yeh, ed. New York: New York University Press, 2001. 153-184.

Secrest, Meryle. Between Me and Life: A Biography of Romaine Brooks. New York: Doubleday, 1974; London: Macdonald and Jane's, 1976.

Werner, Françoise. Romaine Brooks. Paris: Plon, 1994.


    Citation Information
    Author: Lockard, Ray Anne  
    Entry Title: Brooks, Romaine  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated October 8, 2007  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  


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