Romaine Brooks

Romaine Brooks (born Beatrice Romaine Goddard; May 1, 1874 – December 7, 1970) was an American painter who worked mostly in Paris and Capri. She specialized in portraiture and used a subdued tonal palette keyed to the color gray. Brooks ignored contemporary artistic trends such as Cubism and Fauvism, drawing on her own original aesthetic inspired by the works of Charles ConderWalter Sickert, and James McNeill Whistler. Her subjects ranged from anonymous models to titled aristocrats. She is best known for her images of women in androgynous or masculine dress, including her self-portrait of 1923, which is her most widely reproduced work.[1]

“Romaine Brooks.” Wikipedia, Accessed 2 Oct. 2021.

The Female Gaze

Romaine Brooks. Azalées Blanches (White Azaleas). 1910,. Oil on Canvas. Smithsonian Art Museum.
Olympia. 1863. Oil on Canvas. Musee d’Orsay.
Édouard Manet, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Her painting of White Azaleas is similar to Edouard Manet’s Olympia only that the gaze in Brooks’s painting is from a woman to a woman versus the traditional male gaze of Manet’s work.

“The longest and most important relationship of Brooks’ life was her three-way partnership with Natalie Clifford Barney, an American-born writer, and Lily de Gramont, a French aristocrat. She formed a trio with them that lasted the rest of their lives.

Romaine Brooks. Self-Portrait1923. Oil on Canvas.
Smithsonian American Art Museum

Barney was notoriously non-monogamous, a fact that the other two women had to accept. Brooks met Barney in 1916, at a time when the writer had already been involved for about seven years with Duchess Elisabeth de Gramont, also known as Lily or Elisabeth de Clermont-Tonnerre. She was married and the mother of two daughters. After a brief dust-up that resulted in Barney’s offering Gramont a marriage contract while at the same time refusing to give up Brooks, the three women formed a stable lifelong triangle in which none was a third wheel. Gramont, one of the most glamorous taste-makers and aristocrats of the period, summed up their values when she said, “Civilized beings are those who know how to take more from life than others.”Gender fluidity and sexual freedom were paramount among women of Brooks’ circle. Barney hosted a literary salon on Paris’s Left Bank.

“Natalie Clifford Barney.” Wikipedia, Accessed 27 Sept. 2021.

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