Domesticity, London-the 1920s

Romaine Brooks took a house in London during which time she painted her friend Una Trowbridge’s portrait. It featured a sky-lighted top floor and a lovely little garden.

Last year I had the pleasure of hunting for this very house with my adventurous editor and friend, Suzanne Stroh. The house is now for sale at over 9 million pounds. Romaine, an heiress with a substantial fortune paid nothing near that in the 1920s. Walking the streets where she lived I tried to feel her presence. I imagined her starting the day drinking a cup of black coffee so strong that Natale Barney said you could stand a spoon in it. Opening her door out to the garden, passing through the gate to gaze at the lifting fog over the river sans all the newly constructed architecture that now lines its bordering streets. I tried to feel the quiet of her London mornings and imagine her working days and evenings of entertaining carefully selected friends.

I got a little of the feeling from reading Radclyffe Hall’s novel, The Forge in which her main character is loosely based on Romaine with an appearance by a thinly disguised Natalie. Romaine did not like “Johnny’s” portrayal of her but it is a strong statement of character and shows Hall’s respect for Romaine as an artist if not a person. Among this circle of creative lesbians opinions and feelings about each other were fluctuating.  What was not was Romaine’s demands when it came to her residences something Natalie remarked on in their correspondence.

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