Romaine Brooks’s Villa in the hills of Florence is being restored. This is the place that she and her lover Natalie Barney suffered privations and constant threats of being sent off to an internment camp in Parma before deportation to a concentration camp because of being foreigners, and in Natalie’s case having Jewish blood during WWII.
7 Sweet and Brave Tomboys From a New Exhibition
By Christina Schlesinger’s art examines the intersections between gender, identity, fashion, sex, and representation.
I have written about Christina’s art since I first discovered it in the mid 1970’s. I was so delighted to see the Advocate magazine publish a feature on her recent show.
Romaine Brooks, Natalie Barney, and Lily de Gramont shared an interest in Astrology and Tarot throughout their lives, as was Natalie’s other lover Dolly Wilde. This does not strike one strange because during the 19th and currently, people are curious about what the future holds and how it will affect their lives and loves.
In 2014, author and translator, Suzanne Gerber-Stroh consulted an astrologer to construct birth charts for Romaine Brooks and her intimates. Here are the results.
Satisfy your insatiable curiosity and make what you will of how closely Mr. Mann’s findings correspond to the personalities of these highly creative and productive gay women.
For more go to Suzanne Stroh’s link and look for the 2014 entry.
An art historian’s work it seems is never done. One of the great joys of spending more than half your life in the dust bins of history is discovering something new and then being able to bring that find before the public. Few art historians much less one who is also a painter, poet and arts critic such as myself can hope to achieve in a lifetime.
Being able to add lost work to an artist career is rare but Romaine herself led me to the discovery of an early work by her hidden in plain sight in the music room of the Vittoriale Foundation in Gardone Riviera, Italy. The backstory is fascinating.
The performance artist Claude Cahun contended that lesbianism “occurs with special frequency in women of high intelligence.” Absolutely, when it came to what she called an “aristocracy of taste, few could equal Romaine Brooks. This contention is amply borne out by the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s current retrospective of Romaine Brooks’s paintings and drawings on view until October 2, 2016.
The first Romaine Brooks solo exhibition in over 16 years opens at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. on the 17th of June. Most viewers remain unaware of what goes into researching, organizing, and putting on an exhibition. So somewhat like Dorothy’s dog Toto in the film the Wizard of Oz let me pull the curtain back to reveal one aspect of what goes into making it all happen: art conservation.
As a graduate student at the Institute of Fine Arts in NYC in 1968 I first became acquainted with this subtle art through the pioneering pair of art restorers, Sheldon and Caroline Keck. At the time, like many young art historians today, I had no idea what went into restoring a painting. Sheldon Keck died in 1993 but not before he and Caroline set up the first conservation school in the country. They taught students how to remove accumulated grime, discolored varnish and other signs of wear and tear from paintings, restoring them to their original beauty.
The art of a sensitive conservator is a miraculous thing. At the Smithsonian Tiarna Doherty’s sensitive insights into the art of Romaine Brooks have contributed immeasurably to this exhibition and our knowledge of Romaine Brooks as a skilled painter.
Tiarna will give two gallery talks this summer: the first on Tuesday June 21st at 4 p.m. and the second on Monday August 15 at noon. She will highlight the paintings of Romaine Brooks with an in-depth look at how conservators work to preserve an artist’s intended effects. This is a must see for artists and lovers of art worldwide who want to really appreciate this great painter.
My book devotes a considerable number of words regarding how to look at, see and experience a Brooks painting to get the fullest possible pleasure from it. Happy viewing. The show will run through the end of September.
Romaine, Brooks, Natalie Barney and most especially Lily de Gramont would all be standing tall with France and saying give life a chance while defending Paris with all their hearts and might.
For those of us that stand for life, love and liberty today is a day of mourning for all the innocents who have been heartlessly killed by pure evil. The streets of Paris are running with blood.
There is absolutely no excuse for these murders. Anyone celebrating them is part of the problem, not the solution. For love of life, Nous Sommes Unis!
Romaine Brooks had a lifelong love affair with the storied isle of Capri. It began in the summer of 1898 when as a poor student she rented a cheap Gothic chapel to paint in, complete with a courtyard full of fig trees. She loved the island’s easygoing ways and swam daily in the sea off the rocks at the Bagno Timberino.
Sometime near the end of World War I, about a year after she and Natalie Barney became lovers, Romaine purchased the Villa Cercola in Capri. Foremost on her mind was escaping wartime and the sweltering heat of Paris summers, but she also needed to come to terms with the emotional storms she and Natalie were experiencing in settling their three-way marriage. She routinely visited the Roman ruins that brought so many tourists to the island. Naturally daring and athletic, she wasn’t daunted by the dangers that kept so many of them from swimming in the blue grotto.
That made her even more conspicuous, for an arresting beauty who regularly attracted the attention of other women. Faith MacKenzie (whom rumor has it Romaine bedded) wrote that “for the first time in my life I had met a woman so complete in herself and independent in her judgments that she could accept and reject people and things at will without guilt or hesitations.”
Lily de Gramont visited Romaine in the early 1920s and reported back to Natalie Barney that she enjoyed the view of Romaine sunning herself on the rocks, watched over by her current lover. Lily didn’t name names.
But it was already a familiar picture for Natalie Barney. In 1920 Natalie, despite her various ongoing flings, took pen in hand to express both her jealousy and insecurity, writing Romaine:
“I am alone and you are with her. I know you have not bathed without everyone on the island desiring you—that they would follow the glimmer of your perfect form to the ends of the earth – yet can any of them but me so grasp the inner goddess, the real sense of your greatness?”[i]
To learn more about the fascinating life of Romaine Brooks order Romaine Brooks: A Life.
:Langer, Cassandra (author).
REVIEW. First published August, 2015 (Booklist).
[i]. Natalie Clifford Barney to Romaine Brooks, July 21, 1920, Barney/Brooks Letters.
I am wondering where Romaine Brooks’ lost drawings and paintings are. There are so many intriguing clues scattered throughout her letters, papers, and last audio interview. We have reason to believe that somewhere out there are early works from the Capri period, as well as portraits and still-life pictures such as the one Freer bought from her when she was still painting in bright colors. And what of the drawings she refers to in her interview from late 1967 or 68? What were they of? Nudes of Natalie? Portrait sketches? We now know of works from only two periods, and yet she tells us she drew all the time, and Natalie Barney inquires in their exchange of letters whether she has been drawing to amuse herself.
Despite the many masks I have removed from Romaine, it seems as though even more mysteries remain for future researchers to discover.
Hi, all! Just letting you know about a great online event put together by a colleague of mine. Please tune in for Suzanne’s site reopening on Thursday, October 31, 2013 at www.suzannestroh.com.