Obelisk Art History
The Artists

Romaine Brooks
Fiercely independent lesbian paints Paris in shades of gray

Romaine Brooks, The ArtistsLa France Croisee
Portrait of Romaine Brooks

Romaine Brooks grew up hard. Her mother, the american heiress Ella Goddard, wrote demonic poety, spoke to spirits, and doted on her violent, unstable only son — Romaine’s brother St. Mar. Ella had no love for young Romaine, and abandoned her throughout her childhood — leaving Romaine with a New York washerwoman, and shuttling her off to a convent and religious bording schools in her teens.

By 1896, Brooks was 22 and over it. She threw off her mother’s plans to make her a ‘society wife’ and moved to Rome to study art. As the only female student, she was sexually harassaed, and moved again to Paris. Without ties to her wealthy family, Brooks was soon broke, and began spending summers in the less expensive Capri. In Capri, Brooks found her people — the young homosexual intelegensia had made a place for themselves to live with some level of normalcy.

Brooks’s damaged brother St. Mar died unexpectedly in 1901 — and Romaine’s life radically changed. With the male heir of her family dead, Brooks inherited a massive fortune. Untethered from poverty, she struck out on her own as a painter, painting friends and associates from the moody and glittering circles of creative society. Brooks would travel to and from Britian and Paris, painting and possibly romancing the Russian ballet dancer Ida Rubenstein, the Italian musician Renata Borgatti, and the French filmaker and war hero Gabriele D’Annunzio.

At 41, Brooks met her match — the American writer Natalie Barney. The two became powerfully and sometimes jealously connected — eventually moving into a home divided so that Barney could host social guests, and Brooks could maintain her precious solitude.

Reed Enger, "Romaine Brooks, Fiercely independent lesbian paints Paris in shades of gray," in Obelisk Art History, Published February 24, 2016; last modified September 11, 2018, http://arthistoryproject.com/artists/romaine-brooks/.

Further reading atalexkittle.com

Romaine Brooks was a U.S. Female Artist born on May 1, 1874. Brooks contributed to the Symbolist movement and died on December 7, 1970.

The Red Jacket, Romaine Brooks

The Red Jacket

White Azaleas, Romaine Brooks

White Azaleas

The Path, Romaine Brooks

The Path

Spring (La Primavera), Romaine Brooks

Spring (La Primavera)

c. 1910-1913
At The Seaside — Self-portrait, Romaine Brooks

At The Seaside — Self-portrait

La France Croisee, Romaine Brooks

La France Croisee

Ida Rubinstein, Romaine Brooks

Ida Rubinstein

Weeping Venus, Romaine Brooks

Weeping Venus

Chasseress, Romaine Brooks


Renata Borgatti, Au Piano, Romaine Brooks

Renata Borgatti, Au Piano

The Marchesa Casati, Romaine Brooks

The Marchesa Casati

Self-Portrait, 1923, Romaine Brooks

Self-Portrait, 1923

La Baronne Emile D'Erlanger, Romaine Brooks

La Baronne Emile D'Erlanger

Peter (A Young English Girl), Romaine Brooks

Peter (A Young English Girl)

Una Troubridge, Romaine Brooks

Una Troubridge


The unpublished memoirs of Romaine Brooks

No Pleasant Memories


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