Romaine Brooks papers, 1910-1973

A Finding Aid to the Romaine Brooks Papers, 1910-1973, in the Archives of American Art, by Jayna M. Hanson

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Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art

Table of Contents:



Biographical Information

Romaine Brooks (1874-1970) was a wealthy portrait painter who lived abroad for most of her life in Paris, and Nice, France, and Fiesole, Italy.

Beatrice Romaine Goddard was born in Rome, Italy on May 1, 1874 to Ella Waterman and Major Henry Goddard. Although born into wealth and privilage, Romaine did not have a happy childhood. Her mother was abusive to her, but doted on her mentally ill brother. Brooks' mother arranged for her to live with a poor family in a New York City tenement in exchange for meager payments, which were later stopped, while her brother and sister stayed with their mother. Later, she was sent to boarding school.

Eventually, Brooks left for Europe and took voice lessons and studied art in France and Italy. Her brother died in 1901 and her mother became physically ill. Brooks returned to the United States to tend to her mother who died less than a year after her son's death. Upon her mother's death, Brooks and her sister became heiress' to their grandfather, Issac S. Waterman Jr's substantial fortune. Brooks then began to lead a life of wealth and travel.

In 1903, Brooks married a friend, John Ellingham Brooks who was a homosexual. Brooks was bisexual, although according to her biographer Meryl Secrest she may have just enjoyed the companionship of living with someone. They lived together for a year until she left when he disapproved of her public androgynous style of dress.

Romaine first traveled to London and then returned to Paris, where she lived in the 16th arrondissement. She engaged in an elite social life and painted many of the friends in her circle. Brooks chose to paint portraits in a gray color palette, depicting many women in male dress. The somber nearly colorless palette and cross-dress of the sitter gave the paintings an androgynous look. One of her most notable paintings was her own self-portrait that represented this style. Inspired by James McNeill Whistler, Romaine largely ignored the Cubist and Fauvist movements.

In 1909, she met Gabriele D'Annunzio and engaged in a love affair. Among her other lovers are Ida Rubinstein, the Princess de Polignac, and the American writer, Natalie Barney. Natalie and Romaine were involved for fifty years, despite Barney's various affairs and other lovers. They shared a home with two separate wings, which allowed Brooks to be by herslf while Barney entertained friends.

In the 1930s, Brooks abandoned painting and created line drawings, which were featured in Bizarre magazine. After 1935, however, Brooks largely stopped being an active artist. She wrote her autobiography in the 1930s, No Pleasant Memories, as well as an account of her time spent in Italy.

During World War II, Brooks and Barney fled to Italy, where Brooks remained after the war ended. Her later life was marked with self-imposed isolation, even refusing to see Barney during her visits. Romaine Brooks died in 1970 in Nice, France.

After her death, Adelyn Breeskin curated an exhibit of her works at the National Collection of Fine Arts (1971) in Washington, D.C., and at the Whitney Museum of American Art (1971).

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Overview of the Collection

Scope and Contents

The papers of painter Romaine Brooks measure 2.3 linear feet and date from 1910 to 1973. Found are biographical sketches, correspondence, seven journals, writings and notes, printed materials, a scrapbook, and photographs. Most of the materials focus on Brooks' later life while living in Paris and Nice, France and Fiesole, Italy and make little reference to her paintings and portraits

Biographical information includes biographical sketches and a sound recording of an interview of Brooks.

Personal business records consists of one receipt, in French, for an item purchased by Brooks.

Correspondence is scattered and the bulk of it dates from 1950-1969. About half of the correspondence is in French and includes only a few of Romaine's replies. Notable correspondents include Harold Acten, Laura Barney, Yvon Bizardel, Adelyn Breeskin, Jean-Pierre Castelnau, Louis Gauthier-Villars, Janine Lahovary, Edouard MacAvoy, Nicky Mariano, Donald McClelland, Charles de Noailles, David Scott, Alan Searle, and Uberto Strozzi. Letters make little reference to Brooks's paintings, however some discuss her health and relationship with Natalie Barney. Also found is a small amount of Natalie Barney's personal correspondence dating from 1924-1968.

Writings and notes includes seven handwritten journal notebooks which contain Romaine's thoughts, quotes from poetry and literature, references to museums and works of art throughout Europe, and drafts of letters. Also found is a manuscript of No Pleasant Memories, Brooks's autobiography, and A War Interlude, a book she wrote describing her life in Italy during World War II.

Printed material includes a copy of Natalie Barney's poetry, a poem by Brooks, a large-format copy of Gabriele D'Anunzio's poem Sur Une Image de la France Croisse Piente Par Romaine Brooks; magazines and exhibition catalogs concerning Brooks' art; clippings; and a nameplate for Eyre de Lanux, one of Barney's lovers.

There is one scrapbook which includes newsclippings, the majority of which are in French, concerning Brooks and her artwork from 1910 to 1931.

Photographs are of Brooks, of Brooks in her studio surrounded by her art; prints of photos of Brooks's mother and family; photographs of works of art including a photo of Brooks's portrait on John Cocteau hanging in the Louvre. Notable photographers include Carl Van Vecten and Perou.

Arrangement and Series Description

The collection is arranged as 7 series:

Subjects and Names

This collection is indexed in the online catalog of the Archives of American Art under the following index terms:

  • Acten, Harold
  • Barney, Natalie Clifford
  • Bizardel, Yvon
  • Breeskin, Adelyn Dohme, 1896-
  • Brooks, Romaine
  • Castelnou, Jean-Pierre
  • Dreyfus-Barney, Laura
  • Gauthier-Villars, Louis
  • Lahovary, Janine
  • Mac'Avoy, Edouard, 1905-
  • Mariano, Nicky
  • McClelland, Donald
  • Noailles, Charles, vicomte de
  • Strozzi, Uberto
  • Van Vechten, Carl, 1880-1964
  • Artists' studios--Photographs
  • Diaries
  • Interviews
  • Manuscripts
  • Notes
  • Photographs
  • Poems
  • Portrait painters--France
  • Portrait painting--20th century
  • Scrapbooks
  • Sound recordings
  • Women painters--France
  • World War, 1939-1945--Italy

Provenance

The Romaine Brooks papers were donated by Meryle Secrest, Brooks's biographer, in 1999. Secrest received the letters and notebooks directly from Brooks's estate and compiled the remainder. Additional papers were transfered from the Smithsonian's National Museum of American Art via the Smithsonian Institution Archives in 1986.

How the Collection was Processed

The Romaine Brooks papers were previously cataloged as two individual collections and merged upon processing by Jayna Hanson in 2011. The papers were digitized in 2011 with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.


How to Use the Collection

Restrictions on Use

Use of original papers requires an appointment.

Ownership & Literary Rights

The Romaine Brooks papers are owned by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Literary rights as possessed by the donor have been dedicated to public use for research, study, and scholarship. The collection is subject to all copyright laws.

Available Formats

The bulk of the collection was digitized in 2012 and is available via the Archives of American Art's website. Duplicates and photographs of works of art have not been scanned. Only the covers, title pages, and relevant pages have been scanned for some printed materials.

How to Cite this Collection

Romaine Brooks papers, 1910-1973. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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Detailed Description and Container Inventory

Series 1: Biographical Information, circa 1967-1968
2 Folders; Box 1

This series contains chronologies and a recorded interview.

This series has been partially scanned.

Box Folder
1 1 Chronologies, circa 1967
1 2 Interview of Brooks, circa 1968

Series 2: Personal Business Records, 1967
1 Folder; Box 1

This series contains one receipt for an item purchased by Brooks.

Box Folder
1 3 Receipt, 1967

Series 3: Correspondence, 1924-1969, bulk 1950-1969
0.9 Linear feet; Boxes 1-3

Correspondence is scattered and the bulk of it dates from 1950-1969. Notable correspondents include Harold Acten, Laura Barney, Yvon Bizardel, Adelyn Breeskin, Jean-Pierre Castelnau, Louis Gauthier-Villars, Janine Lahovary, Edouard MacAvoy, Nicky Mariano, Donald McClelland, Charles de Noailles, David Scott, Alan Searle, and Uberto Strozzi. Letters from Breeskin, Scott, and McClelland concern Brooks's relationship with the National Collection of Fine Arts. Also found is a small amount of Natalie Barney's personal correspondence dating from 1924-1968.

This series has been scanned in its entirety.

This series is arranged alphabetically by correspondent. Illegible letters and Natalie Barney's correspondence are arranged chronologically.

Box Folder
1 4 Acton, Harold, 1960-1962
1 5 Acton, Hortense, 1960-circa 1962
1 6 Barney, Laura (Dreyfus), 1955-1966
1 7 Berthe, Mme., 1965-1968
1 8 Bizardel, Yvon, 1963-1965
1 9 Bizardel, Yvon, 1966
1 10 Bizardel, Yvon, 1967-1969
1 11 Bizardel, Yvon, circa 1960s
1 12 Breeskin, Adelyn D., 1968
1 13 Canart (?), Louise, 1956
1 14 Cassou (?), Jean, 1968
1 15 Castelnau, Jean-Pierre, 1967
1 16 Cholon, Jean, 1965
1 17 DesGruezes, Michel, 1966-1967
1 18 Ellas (?), 1957
1 19 Gailly de Tourines, Jean, 1966-1969
1 20 Gallup, Donald, 1965
1 21 Gaubier-Viginen, Louis, 1964-1968
1 22 Gugenot, Pierre, 1960
1 23 Hennessy, Aileen, circa 1950
1 24 Huisman, Ph., 1956-1958
1 25 Lahouary, Mme. Nicholas (Janine), 1956-1967
1 26 Lot, Guruaime, 1962
1 27 Luciano, Josephine, 1957-1958
Box Folder
2 1 MacAvoy, Edouard, 1957-1963
2 2 MacAvoy, Edouard, 1964-1966
2 3 MacAvoy, Edouard, 1967-1969
2 4 MacAvoy, Edouard, circa 1960s
2 5 Marino, Nicky, 1964-1968
2 6 McClelland, Donald R., 1964
2 7 de Noailles, Charles, 1957-1958
2 8 Olds, Alys, circa 1960
2 9 Rosenberg, Paul, 1954-1955
2 10 Scott, David W., 1966-1968
2 11 Searle, Alan, 1958
2 12 Strozzi, Uberto, 1951-1955
2 13 Strozzi, Uberto, 1956-1959
2 14 Strozzi, Uberto, 1960-1965
2 15 Strozzi, Uberto, 1966-1967
2 16 Strozzi, Uberto, circa 1950s-1960s
2 17 Strozzi, Uberto, 1951-1967
Envelopes
2 18 Taurines, J., 1964-1968
2 19 Winwar, Frances, 1955-1956
2 20 Wunder, Richard P., 1967-1968
Box Folder
3 1 Miscellaneous, 1940-1968, undated
unsigned, illegible
3 2 Natalie Barney's Correspondence, 1924-1925, 1955-1968

Series 4: Writings and Notes, circa 1930s-1959
0.3 Linear feet; Boxes 3-4

Writings and notes includes seven handwritten journal notebooks that contain Romaine's thoughts, quotes from poetry and literature, references to museums and works of art throughout Europe, and drafts of letters. Also found is a manuscript of No Pleasant Memories, Brooks's autobiography, and of A War Interlude, a book she wrote describing her life in Italy during World War II.

This series has been scanned in its entirety.

Box Folder
3 3 Journal Notebook, 1954-1956
contains lists and Romaine's thoughts
3 4 Journal Notebook, 1958
contains thoughts and quotes
3 5 Journal Notebook, 1959
contains copies of letters
3 6 Journal Notebook, circa 1930s
contains references to museums and works of art throughout Europe; mythology writings
3 7 Journal Notebook, circa 1950s
contains thoughts and quotes
3 8 Journal Notebook, circa 1950s
contains letters to a professor concerning a book
3 9 Journal Notebook, circa 1950s
contains quotes from poetry and literature
3 10 Original Folder that Housed Journal Notebooks, circa 1950s
3 11-12 Manuscript, No Pleasant Memories, circa 1930s
Box Folder
4 1 Manuscript, No Pleasant Memories, circa 1930s
4 2 Manuscript, A War Interlude, circa 1940s

Series 5: Printed Material, 1910-1973
0.3 Linear feet; Boxes 4-6

Printed material includes published works by Barney and Brooks, magazines and clippings concerning Brooks and her artwork, and exhibition catalogs from Brooks' solo shows. This series includes a copy of Natalie Barney's Poems and Poemes Autres Alliances, published in 1920, which includes a poem by Brooks. Also found is a large-format copy of Gabriele D'Anunzio's poem Sur Une Image de la France Croisse Piente Par Romaine Brooks. A copy of Life and Letters To-Day features an except from Brooks's autobiography. There is also a nameplate of Eyre de Lanux, one of Barney's lovers.

This series has been partially scanned. Only relevant pages of published materials have been scanned.

Box Folder
4 3 Poems and Poemes Autres Alliances, by Natalie Barney, 1920
4 4 Sur Une Image de la France Croisee Piente Par Romaine Brooks, by Gabriele d' Anunzio, circa 1920
Oversized material housed in Box 6
4 5 L'Art et Les Artistes, 1923 May
4 6 International Studio, 1926 February
4 7 Life and Letters To-Day, 1938 Summer
4 8 Bizarre, 1968 March
4 Exhibition Catalogs
4 9 Tableaux par Romaine Brooks, 1910 May
Box Folder
5 1 Romain Brooks Solo Shows, 1926-1971
5 2 Romaine Brooks Solo Shows, Duplicates, 1926-1971
5 3 Other Artists, 1973
5 4 Clippings, 1925-1968
5 5 Eyre (Elizabeth) de Lanux Nameplate, circa 1950
Box Folder
6 1 Oversized Work by Gabriele D'Anunzio, circa 1914
Oversized material scanned with Box 4, F4

Series 6: Scrapbook, 1910-1931
1 Folder; Box 6

This series consists of one scrapbook containing news clippings concerning Romaine Brooks's artwork and exhibitions dating from 1910-1931. Many of the clippings are in French.

This series has been scanned in its entirety.

Box Folder
6 3 Scrapbook, 1910-1931

Series 7: Photographs, circa 1910-1970s
0.3 Linear feet; Boxes 5-6, OV 7-8

Photographs are of Brooks, of Brooks in her studio with artworks, prints of photos of Brooks's family, and photographs of works of art. Notable photographs include portraits of Brooks by Carl Van Vecten and Perou and a photo of Brooks's portrait of John Cocteau hanging in The Louvre.

The bulk of this series has been scanned. Photographs of works of art and duplicates have not been scanned.

Box Folder
5 6 Photographs of Romaine Brooks, circa 1930s-1970s
Includes photos by Carl Van Vecten and Perou. Oversized material housed in Box 6 and OV 8
5 7 Family Portraits, circa 1910
prints from 1874 photographs
5 8 Photographs of Works of Art by Romaine Brooks, In Situ, circa 1920
Portrait of John Cocteau hanging in Pavillon de Marsan, Louvre
5 9-10 Photographs of Works of Art, circa 1920s
Oversized material housed in OV7
5 11 Duplicates, circa 1970s
Box Folder
6 2 Oversized Photographs of Romaine Brooks with her Artwork, circa 1950s
Oversized material scanned with Box 5, F6
Box
OV7 Oversized Photographs of Works of Art, circa 1920s
Oversized material from Box 5, F9-10
Box
OV8 Oversized Portrait of Brooks by Van Vecten, circa 1935
Oversized material scanned with Box 5, F6