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Romaine Brooks papers, 1910-1973

Romaine Brooks papers, 1910-1973

Brooks, Romaine, 1874-1970

Painter

Representative image for Romaine Brooks papers, 1910-1973

This site provides access to the papers of Romaine Brooks in the Archives of American Art that were digitized in 2012. The papers have been scanned in their entirety, and total 2,144 images.

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

Collection Information

Size: 2.3 linear feet

Summary: 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/Historical Note

Romaine Brooks (1874-1970) was a portrait painter who lived in Paris and Nice, France, and Fiesole, 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.

Funding

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

A Finding Aid to the Romaine Brooks Papers, 1910-1973, in the Archives of American Art
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Author
Finding aid prepared by Jayna M. Hanson
Biographical/Historical note
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).
Arrangement note
The collection is arranged as 7 series:
Series 1: Biographical Information, circa 1967-1968 (Box 1; 2 folders)
Series 2: Personal Business Records, 1967 (Box 1; 1 folder)
Series 3: Correspondence, 1924-1969, bulk 1950-1969 (Boxes 1-3; 0.8 linear feet)
Series 4: Writings and Notes, circa 1930s-1959 (Boxes 3-4; 0.3 linear feet)
Series 5: Printed Material, 1910-1973 (Boxes 4-6; 0.3 linear feet)
Series 6: Scrapbook, 1910-1931 (Box 6; 1 folder)
Series 7: Photographs, circa 1910-1970s (Box 5-6, OV7-8; 0.3 linear feet)
Scope and Contents note
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.
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.
Processing Information note
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.

Additional Forms Available

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.

Restrictions on Access

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Contact Reference Services for more information.

How to Cite This Collection

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

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