Romaine Brooks, born Beatrice Romaine Goddard (May 1, 1874 – December 7, 1970), was an American painter who worked mostly in Paris and Capri. The fortune she inherited from her mother allowed her to ignore social conventions and pursue affairs with Ballets Russes dancer Ida Rubenstein, writer and politician Gabriele D'Annunzio, and writer and salon host Natalie Barney, among the most notable.
She could also afford to go her own direction in her painting style. She avoided the then current trends of fauvism and cubism in favor of the style of the aesthetes, specifically James McNeil Whistler. She limited her palette to mostly shades of gray with tints of ocher and sepia, giving her work a soulful, wintry feeling.
Dismissed in her time, Brooks's work has increased in value and interest since the 1980s and the resurgence of figurative painting. Her work is also seen as a precursor to present day artists who explore gender and sexuality in their art.
Natalie Barney, 1924
Natalie Barney was Brook's longest, most significant relationship. Barney was an American-born writer who hosted a literary salon on Paris's Left Bank. Barney was already involved with other women when they met and over their 50 years continued to keep the doors open to other loves and interests. Brooks's portrait of Barney has a softer look than her other paintings of the 1920s. Barney sits, swathed in a fur coat, in the house at 20 Rue Jacob where she lived and held her salon. In the window behind her, the courtyard is dusted with snow.
Self portrait near the ocean, 1914
Una Troubridge, 1924
Una Vincenzo, Lady Troubridge (born Margot Elena Gertrude Taylor; March 8, 1887 – September 27, 1963) was a British sculptor and translator. She is best known as the long-time partner (28 years) of Marguerite "John" Radclyffe-Hall, the author of The Well of Loneliness. Troubridge was an educated woman who had many achievements in her own right. Most notably she was a successful translator and introduced the French bisexual writer Colette to English readers. Her talent as a sculptor prompted Nijinsky to sit for her several times.
In many of Brooks's paintings women are dressed in masculine clothing. While in 1903 Brooks had shocked her husband by cutting her hair short and ordering a suit of men's clothes from a tailor, by the mid 1920s bobbed and cropped hairstyles were in and wearing tailored jackets — usually with a skirt — was a recognized fashion. Women like Troubridge and Brooks used variations of the masculine mode, not to pass as men, but as a signal — a way of making their sexuality visible to others. At the time these paintings were made, however, it was a code that only a select few knew how to read. To a mainstream audience, the women in these paintings probably just looked fashionable. (Source: Wikipedia)
La Marquise Casati, 1920
Another of Brooks's lovers was the wildly bizarre Marchesa Luisa Casati, whose portrait she painted while on Capri in 1920. Marquise Luisa Casati Stampa di Soncino was an eccentric Italian heiress, muse, and patroness of the arts in early 20th century Europe. As the concept of dandy was expanded to include women, the Marchesa Casati fitted the utmost female example by saying: "I want to be a living work of art." Casati's famous eccentricities dominated and delighted European society for nearly three decades. The beautiful and extravagant hostess to the Ballets Russes was something of a legend among her contemporaries. She astonished society by parading with a pair of leashed cheetahs and wearing live snakes as jewelery.
Elisabeth de Gramont, Duchess of Clermont-Tonnerre, 1912
While Brooks may have had some temper about Natalie Barney's affairs, it did not prevent her from painting Elisabeth de Gramont. Gramont was Barney's current lover when Barney and Brooks met. A descendant of Henry IV of France, Elisabeth de Gramont had grown up among the highest aristocracy; when she was a child, according to New Yorker columnist Janet Flanner, "peasants on her farm... begged her not to clean her shoes before entering their houses." She looked back on this lost world of wealth and privilege with little regret and became known as the "red duchess" for her support of socialism.
She was a close friend, and sometimes critic of writer Marcel Proust, whom she had met in 1903. In her youth, Elisabeth de Gramont was a strikingly pretty woman. Opinionated, outspoken, she became openly bisexual by the start of the 20th century, despite being married.
Jean Cocteau, 1912
Cocteau was a French poet, novelist, dramatist, designer, playwright, artist, and filmmaker. Cocteau is best known for his novel Les Enfants terribles (1929), and the films Blood of a Poet (1930), Les Parents terribles (1948), Beauty and the Beast (1946) and Orpheus (1949). His circle of associates, friends and lovers included Kenneth Anger, Pablo Picasso, Jean Marais, Yul Brynner, Marlene Dietrich, Coco Chanel, Erik Satie, and Édith Piaf. (Source: Wikipedia)
Madame Errázuris, 1908
Eugenia Huici Arguedas de Errázuriz was a Chilean patron of modernism and a style leader of Paris from 1880 into the 20th century. Sho paved the way for the modernist, minimalist aesthetic that would be taken up in fashion by Coco Chanel. Her circle of friends and protégés included Pablo Picasso, Igor Stravinsky, and Jean Cocteau. (Source: Wikipedia)
Muriel Draper, 1936
Society hostess, arts aficionado, decorator, and memoirist — Muriel Draper 's talents in the roles of salon host and fashion arbiter were legendary. In the 1910s, Draper lived in London, where her home became a popular gathering place for artists and writers — Henry James, John Singer Sergeant, and Eleanora Duse visited often. This was one of Romaine Brooks's last portraits.
Elsie de Wolfe, 1920
Brooks did not always ennoble her subjects. Inherited wealth freed her from the need to sell her paintings; she did not care whether she pleased her sitters or not, and her wit, when unleashed, could be sharp. A striking example is her 1914 portrait of Elsie de Wolfe, an interior designer whom she felt had copied her monochromatic color schemes. Brooks painted de Wolfe porcelain-pale, in an off-white dress and a bonnet resembling a shower cap; a white ceramic goat placed on a table at her elbow seems to mimic her simpering expression.
De Wolfe had been an American actress, quite popular on Broadway more for her costumes than her acting ability. She had an established household with Elisabeth Marbury, a powerful Broadway agent of the time. She quite nearly invented the career of interior decoration, as most work in the field was handled by individual craftsmen at the time.
De Wolfe's 1926 marriage to diplomat Sir Charles Mendl was page-one news in the New York Times and was quite a surprise to her lady friends. She became Lady Mendl and now had the respectability and title to attract such clients as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
She popularised blue hair rinse, yoga, and high colonics. (Source: Wikipedia)
Peter, a Young English Girl, 1923
One of her lovers, the artist Gluck (Hannah Gluckstein), whom Brooks painted around 1923, was noted in the contemporary press as much for her style of dress as for her art. She pushed the masculine style further than most by wearing trousers on all occasions, which was not considered acceptable in the 1920s. Articles about her presented her cross-dressing as an artistic eccentricity or as a sign that she was ultra-modern. Brooks's portrait shows Gluck in a starched white shirt, a silk tie, and a long black belted coat that she designed and had made by a "mad dressmaker"; her right hand, at her waist, holds a man's hat. (Source: Wikipedia)
Self portrait, 1912
White Azaleas, 1910
The Cross of France, 1914 (Ida Rubinstein)
Ida Rubinstein, ballerina for the Ballets Russes, was much celebrated in art. Her portrait by Valentin Serov in 1910 marks the most complete realization of his mature style. The Art Deco sculptor Demetre Chiparus produced a Rubinstein figurine, and she was also painted by Antonio de la Gandara. Bisexual, in 1911 Rubinstein began a three-year affair with Brooks, who created a striking portrait. She used the dancer as a model for many paintings.
Rubinstein was deeply in love with Brooks; she wanted to buy a farm in the country where they could live alone together — a mode of life in which Brooks had no interest. Although they broke up in 1914, Brooks painted Rubinstein more often than any other subject; for Brooks, Rubinstein's "fragile and androgynous beauty" represented an aesthetic ideal. The earliest of these paintings are a series of allegorical nudes. At the beginning of World War I, Brooks painted The Cross of France, a symbolic image of France at war, showing a Red Cross nurse looking off to the side with a resolute expression while Ypres burns in the distance behind her. Although it is not a portrait of Ida Rubinstein, it does resemble her, and she is believed to have modeled for it.
Exquisse d'Ida Rubinstein, 1912
Femme avec des Fleurs, 1910
Le Trajet, 1900 (Ida Rubinstein)
La Jaquette Rouge, 1910
Brooks, left in an early uncredited image, and right by Carl Van Vetchen.