Cover Girl

Romaine Brooks made the cover of the museum magazine!

Peter, a young English girl in actuality is the Jewish English lesbian painter known as Gluck. They were rivals and although Romaine completed the stunning portrait of Gluck as per their arrangement for an exchange Gluck never completed hers. We only know of the unfinished painting through photographs.

The exhibition opens in Washington, DC  on June 17th where Romaine will finally be returned to the pantheon of American painting where she belongs.

I shall be kicking off the panel from 4-7pm covering Romaine’s art and life along with my sister panelists. Please come, it is free and open to the public. My book serves as the catalogue and more for this exhibition.

My book serves as the catalogue and more for this exhibition.

If Walls Could Talk

Harmony and cacophony were elements that concerned Romaine Brooks all her life.

“Paris”, as Audrey Hepburn, famously said, “is always a good idea”.

What is most remarkable about Romaine Brooks and her friends is that their generous patronage of writers, poets, musicians, artists, designers and performers made a vibrant cultural scene possible because of their inherited wealth.

From an early age Brooks had a heightened awareness of pattern and decoration, and how objects came together in space. Her aesthetics extend into the realm of both her surroundings, as well as her clothing and art as manifestations of her philosophy. Brooks lived through her eyes and ears. She was fully engaged with the crisis of modernity albeit from a conservative and classicist position which, has been widely misunderstood.

At the age of 14 after returning to the sprawling Chateau Grimaldi that her mother had purchased, Brooks found the flocked wallpaper and elaborate furniture of the rooms her mother had allocated to her intolerable.
She complained that the décor gChateau Grimaldiave her migraines and created a relentlessly screaming sensation in her skull.

Her solution was to cover the baroque patterned walls with gray paper, abolish the elaborately carved, gilded and upholstered chairs and other furniture and replaced them with simple oak tables and comfortable chairs. Creating harmonious modern spaces became a life-long obsession with her that she extended even to her first exhibition in 1910, wherein she covered the walls with a neutral colored material that allowed her paintings to show their individual character.

Throughout her long life she orchestrated her interiors and those of the friends who asked her to decorate their flats as meticulously as she styled her clothing and executed her portraits.

MS. Blog Interview

A terrific and timely interview with me in Ms. Magazine by Mary Meriam.

Sexual politics are alive and flourishing in the GOP presidential race and in the current debates regarding Hillary Clinton’s qualifications for the office. So having independent women like Romaine Brooks and her circle, having their say about real women’s lives and creativity is a blessing.

Romaine’s circle of women and lesbians forged their own notions of a room of one’s own, in their case several houses and shared households, as well as space to spread their creative wings wide. Their notions of how to live authentic lives are much more contemporary than they have previously been given credit for.

Not everyone will want to emulate their lifestyle, but we have to give them full credit for demanding one given the limitations placed on women during the interwar period and beyond.

Romaine Brooks - Book
For one and all

A Banner Year For Romaine

Wishing each and every one of you Brooks fans a very happy holiday and a good New Year. Let’s lift a glass to our girl.

2015 has been a banner year for all things Romaine. After 40 plus years of on and off energy devoted to rediscovering the real Romaine Brooks my new book completely revises how the artist and woman is seen. I count myself very happy to finally see this critical biography in print. Be sure to catch our recent panel of November 12 on the Leslie Lohman Museum in New York City web site.

Romaine Brooks - Book
University of Wisconsin Press

As an added bonus a spectacular show of Romaine Brooks’s work opened on my birthday, December 18,  at the Fortuny Museum in Venice, Italy. It is a groundbreaking showcasing her many faceted talents as a world class  artist, designer and stylist. All points my new book  Romaine Brooks: A Life highlights.  I am happy to report that the show has been so successful that its run has been extended past its original closing date. More good news is that the catalog is being translated from the Italian into English.

Put June 10, 2016 on your calendar, when The Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. opens an exhibition of Romaine’s works from their collection. My biography will be available for purchase in their book store. So Brooks fans, let’s celebrate and keep these dates in mind for the coming year.

A Peek into Romaine Brooks’ Closet

Romaine Brooks – witty, cautious and brilliant.  Once you see a painting by this talented artist you will never forget it. Taking a peek into Romaine’s closet is at the heart of my book, Romaine Brooks. Contrary to inaccurate accounts written by other biographers, Romaine Brooks had a vibrant sexual and family life with two other women; Natalie Barney and Lily de Gramont. A closely guarded secret she took great pains to keep until she passed away in 1970.

This previously unsolved mystery had thrown a 40 year, dark cloak over Romaine Brooks’ life until my research slowly began to reveal the truth. Unfortunately, her closely guarded secret has made the work of refuting inaccurate accounts of her life to be one of my most difficult challenges as her 21st century biographer.

In the past, people have questioned, “Wasn’t she anti-Semitic or a fascist sympathizer?”  Providing fresh information about the loves, life and art of such a secretive and talented artist has proved especially challenging for an introvert such as myself, particularly in a public venue.  Luckily for me, Romaine Brooks had provided some pointers through her life experiences. She had an air of self-confidence and elegance as was demonstrated when she took Paris by storm in 1905. She was a master of the performative self and beautifully dressed. She was wildly in fashion among the upper classes that adored her and her elegant apartment on the right bank quickly became the talk of the town.

I can only hope to equal her performative skills.  Even so, Brooks fans that are in the New York City area can treat themselves to a fascinating free panel discussion at the Leslie Lohman Museum, 26 Wooster Street, from 6 PM to 8 PM. The panel features myself, screenwriter and translator Suzanne Stroh, and art historian James Saslow. Following the panel discussion will be a book signing and reception. For those unable to attend the discussion panel and Q & A, the event will be video recorded and available later this month on my website. It will also be found on the Leslie Lohman Museum’s website.

Romaine Brooks: A Life may be ordered from the University of Wisconsin press,  Amazon, Barnes & Noble or your local book store by request.

Romaine Brooks in the News

Romaine Brooks as she was coming into her own as a painter, but before she met any of the great loves of her life.
Romaine Brooks as she was coming into her own as a painter, but before she met any of the great loves of her life.

What an engaging take on Romaine Brooks by Priscilla Frank in today’s Huffington Post entitled “Meet Romaine Brooks, A 20th Century Artist Who Paved The Way for The 21st Century Lesbian.

My new book will alert scholars to misinformation in the outdated materials Frank relied on.

That being said, I loved Priscilla Frank’s conclusion:

“Today, the slipperiness of sexual preference and gender identity–and identity in general–often pops up in relevant contemporary art. However,  during Brooks’ lifetime, the fact that a woman could be an object of female desire, or that she could be completely uninterested in being the object of male desire, was rarely visualized or communicated. Brooks changed that — and, with those same brushstrokes, helped to change the history of art and gender equality.”

Priscilla Frank


Romaine’s sultry femininity is strikingly evident in her 1908 photograph that perhaps explains her allure for both sexes and her unique style that Frank underscores in her post.

My book will finally be published in September, when readers will discover a Romaine Brooks they never knew. Beyond biography, it’s also a critical study of her work.

Meanwhile, it’s satisfying to see this great American artist finally getting the attention she deserves.

Romaine Brooks - Book

Romaine Brooks: Hardly “Almost Famous”

I have just finished a fascinating read of Megan Mayhew Bergman’s new collection of short stories, Almost Famous Women. As a biographer of Romaine Brooks, it’s great to see the inclusion of my subject, not just as the star of a prominent short story, but in what is widely reported to be one of the book’s most resonant pieces.

Gone and Undeservedly Forgotten

I echo many reviewers in applauding Bergman’s choice of subject matter. What’s old is new again in these stories of remarkable and unsung pioneering women. These louder-than-life female characters stood shoulder-to-shoulder with their male equivalents, but history has almost erased their contributions. Bergman is artful in recognizing these compelling lives. She catches them at pivotal moments and portrays them in provocative scenes.

Consistent with What Came Before

“Romaine Remains” is a powerfully dark narrative written as a noir power play; a tale of jealousy and envy. I can attest that the author has done her homework. The character of Brooks in this fictionalized piece holds true to what biographers have documented about Romaine’s life. All major published works about the artist and her circle are consistent in their depiction of Brooks as dark, subversive, and antisocial. Bergman plays this out vividly. New evidence, however, reveals that history didn’t just neglect Brooks; history got Brooks wrong, as my forthcoming biography Romaine Brooks: A Life (University of Wisconsin Press, Fall 2015) will explain.

An Impression Made to Last

A review in Seven Days, a publication out of Vermont, mentions that Brooks’ work “inexplicably failed to make a lasting impression.” As a biographer who has been pursuing the truth about Romaine Brooks for decades, I must disagree. The impression in Europe from 1910 to the eve of WW2, recorded in newspaper reports and catalog essays, was that she was among America’s top three living portrait painters. Today, Romaine Brooks remains a Modernist rock star in Europe’s art scene. So why has she been relegated to “almost famous” status in America? Because of a different art — writing. And far from being “inexplicable,” it’s sadly easy to explain.

The View through an Unfortunate Lens

Brooks’ contributions, both as a major American painter and as a formative innovator in the decorative arts, have been overshadowed by her reputation as a restless heiress with conservative politics and inconvenient friendships with fascists. Biography played a part in shunning Brooks’ legacy because she herself was believed to be a radical conservative on the fringe. It was a tale that appealed to prurient tastes, and in a few cases, hearsay has been taken for — and printed as — truth.

Rediscovering Romaine Brooks

The evidence cited in A Life sheds new light on the character of Romaine Brooks, leaving far less of her reality to the imagination. After decades of researching my subject, I was shocked to discover Brooks at the end of her life to be quite unlike the woman depicted in “Romaine Remains” or in previous biographies. In life, she remained witty and charming even at 93, the age at which Bergman chooses to tell Romaine’s tale. Romaine was, in fact, quite lucid, personable and articulate in discussing her life and art. What’s more, this woman of great passion created groundbreaking art that remains arresting. That art, rarely exhibited, deserves to be seen.

A New Legacy for a New Generation

It is not her characterization in Almost Famous Women that makes Romaine Brooks unforgettable. I attribute the enduring fascination with her story to the undeniable voice of truth resounding through time, demanding to be heard. The last word on Romaine Brooks has not yet been spoken, and I invite readers interested in her life to discover in A Life a truth even more captivating than what Megan Mayhew Bergman’s shocking tale imagines.

The manuscript is awaiting copy editing

Romaine Brooks: A Life is now in the pipeline and just awaiting copy editing. As the author, I must admit that it has been the journey of a lifetime. My take on Romain’s life and times is entirely new, based on fresh research coming out of France, as well as collections relating to her which other biographers may not have analyzed as closely as I have.

Networking across disciplines yielded fantastic connections that allowed for an unprecedented stage of fact-matching and checking. The process yielded a new and more fully nuanced reading of this fascinating woman’s artistic and daily life that was simply unavailable to earlier biographers, through no fault of their own.

Simply put, Romaine Brooks was not the psychologically challenged lesbian artist as which she has been portrayed by previous biographers.

My book paints a new — and, we now know, much more accurate — picture of her that refutes most of what has been written about Brooks and her art.

The new book also corrects many false impressions, most importantly that she was a fascist sympathizer and virulent anti-Semite. Reading her On The Hills Of Florence during the war and about the six years she and Natalie Barney (who was a quarter Jewish) makes her position as a conservative American living abroad much clearer than the simplistic and unexamined readings of her attitudes that have gone before.

All I can say is the evidence is now online from the Smithsonian institution for you to read for yourselves. What my book does is to contextualize this material in accord with Romaine’s life and choices to achieve a better understand her personality and thought processes.

Equally Intriguing is the true nature of her love life with Natalie Barney and her relationship to Lily de Gramont. I hope you will look forward to reading all about the fascinating Mrs. Brooks come 2015-16.

For those of you who will be in Washington November 20th I will be doing a talk for the Smithsonian fellows lunch time series at the Archives of American art. You are welcome to come at noon to the second floor conference room. Just present I’d and take the elevator to learn more about the Romaine we never knew and the missing works by her that we still need to rediscover and bring before the public. So stay tuned for more news.

Ever on the trail of Romaine Brooks and her marriage partners

Spring offensive--300px-Western_front_1918_germanA question has been puzzling me related to my latest book, forthcoming from University of Wisconsin Press later this year.  I’ve been wondering — when Lily confronted Natalie, how serious was she? They had been lovers for 9 years and Natalie had been helping to support Lily and her two daughters.

I recently received information confirming that, when Lily delivered her ultimatum to Natalie, demanding that she cut off her relationship with Romaine or suffer the loss of Lily in her life, she fled to the countryside.

This seemed almost impossible to imagine in a country that was at war. But a military historian has confirmed that it actually would have in fact been possible for Lily to travel because the German offensive hadn’t yet gotten fully underway. This also means that Natalie would have been able to chase after, and that the marriage contract between them might have been written en route, rather than in Paris.

You can read more details in my new book, Romaine Brooks: A Life, but a quick look at the map confirms the information I have been sent.