Connect with us
Download DailyArt to your phone Download DailyArt to your phone
Download on the App Store Download from Google Play

DailyArtMagazine.com – Art History Stories

More Than Fifty Shades of Grey In The Grey Life Of Romaine Brooks

20th century

More Than Fifty Shades of Grey In The Grey Life Of Romaine Brooks

WARNING: If you cannot digest sad stories about childhood, stop reading now. It won’t get better in adulthood, so if you don’t like such stories either, just click here to look at calm views of Mount Fuji instead.

sad venus

Romaine Brooks, La Venus triste (The Weeping Venus), 1917, Musées de la Ville de Poitiers et de la Societe des Antiquaires de l’Ouest Musée Sainte-Croix, Poitiers, France

The story of Romaine Brooks might have been a story of success, luxury and easy life since she was born to a very wealthy American family (her grandpa was a multi-millionaire!). But it was not.
1. Her parents divorced – back then, in the 1880s, it still was a big deal- and her dad left her family when Romaine was very small.
2. Her brother was mentally ill and had a tendency to attack other people.
3. Her mother was abusive and mistreated Romaine (while lovingly caring for her brother), and when the girl turned seven she left her at a foster family. She didn’t send any money and seemed to have vanished.

Romaine Brooks, Le Traject, about 1900

Romaine Brooks, Le Traject, around 1911, Smithsonian American Art Museum.


When Romaine was 19, she decided to leave school and move to Paris. She sang in a cabaret for a little bit and then moved to Rome, city where she was born. She attended an art school where she was the only girl in her class. Boys harassed her sexually and laughed at her drawings. She moved to Capri because it was much cheaper to live in, but despite that she nearly starved herself and suffered a physical breakdown.

034-romaine-brooks-theredlist

Romaine Brooks, Femme avec des fleurs, ca. 1912.

In 1901 her brother died and so did her mother a year after. In 1903 Romaine married her close friend John Ellingham Brooks, a homosexual pianist and translator who was in financial trouble. They fought from the beginning because John didn’t approve Romaine’s masculine style (she cut her hair and dressed like a man), so she left him after a year and moved to London. Romaine herself was bisexual and had a love affair with a dancer Ida Rubinstein but they also broke up.

Romaine Brooks, Self-Portrait, 1923, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the artist

Romaine Brooks, Self-Portrait, 1923, Smithsonian American Art Museum.


Not only were her looks controversial, her painting didn’t suit the times either. The beginning of the 20th century was the era of colourful Fauvists and geometric Cubists. There was no room for Symbolist and depressingly grey and gloomy paintings which were moreover painted by a woman! And what kind of women did she depict: strong, independent and very masculine! She didn’t sell much.

Romaine Brooks, Una, Lady Troubridge, 1924.

Romaine Brooks, Una, Lady Troubridge, 1924, Smithsonian American Art Museum

She never published her memoirs on which she worked most of her adult life. She entitled them as No Pleasant memories. When she was 85, she admitted: “My dead mother gets between me and life.” With time, Romaine became paranoid about her drawings, thinking that somebody was going to poison her and steal them. She became reclusive and was able live in a darkened room for weeks. She died at the age of 96.

Find out more:


 

Magda, art historian and Italianist, she writes about art because she cannot make it herself. She loves committed and political artists like Ai Weiwei or the Futurists; like Joseph Beuys she believes that art can change us and we can change the world.

Comments

More in 20th century

  • Simpatía (La Rabia del gato), Remedios Varo Simpatía (La Rabia del gato), Remedios Varo

    20th century

    Painting of the Week: Simpatía (La Rabia del gato), Remedios Varo

    By

    Our painting of the week is Simpatía (La Rabia del gato) which is soon going to be auctioned at Christie’s. It’s a huge treat for all art lovers because for the last 40 years it was a treasured piece of art owned by the same family. The last auctions,...

  • 19th Century

    Josef Šíma: from Czech Republic to Paris

    By

    Josef Šíma was born in Jaromer, in today’s Czech Republic in 1891, but he became a naturalized French citizen (he took the citizenship already in 1926). Although he spent most of his life in France, he never forgot the country of his childhood, which strongly influenced...

  • Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Street, Dresden Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Street, Dresden

    Expressionism

    Painting of the Week: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Street, Dresden

    By

    The swirling crowds and electric lights of the modern city. This is the subject of today’s painting of the week, created by one of the greatest German Expressionists, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. Kirchner was a member of the group of artists Die Brücke. Dresden’s fashionable Königstrasse was a frequent...

  • Artists' Stories

    Die Brücke’s Magician: Otto Mueller

    By

    Do we talk enough about Die Brücke? Its importance for the development of modern art is undoubted. But lost between various movements and -isms that we encounter when we read or talk about the art of the beginnings of the 20th century, we tend to pay...

  • Rooms from Famous Paintings Rooms from Famous Paintings

    19th Century

    6 Rooms from Famous Paintings Brought to Real Life

    By

    Paintings of historical interiors are fascinating hybrid images – midway between the work of a great artist’s imagination and a document of the past. Thanks to the project Atelier Décor held by HomeAdvisor we can learn how rooms from famous paintings would look like in real...

To Top

Just to let you know, DailyArt Magazine’s website uses cookies to personalise content and adverts, to provide social media features and to analyse traffic. Read cookies policy