A Woman to Know: Romaine Brooks

I grasped every occasion no matter how small, to assert my independence of views. — Romaine

(image via Archives of American Art)


Romaine Brooks painted portraits in gray. But not just any portraits -- throughout the 1920s in Paris, France, Romaine painted women, mostly scandalously adrogynous depictions. She painted women in tuxedos, women in suits, unknown women reclining nude on couches or high-society dressed in top hats and ties.

But Romaine had a hard time selling her work. People were shocked by her somber style and queer subjects. One portrait sitter complained, "You haven't beautified me." Romaine replied, "I have ennobled you." She ignored the fashionable painting trends of the time, shunned inclusion in the artistic circles and retreated into a hermit's life, experimenting with odd drawings, producing few works and living off a family inheritance.

She died in 1970, just as an international renaissance in gender scholarship was leading many women to rediscover her work. Today, her paintings are collected and praised as a "who's who" of LGBTQ women of the era.

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