Friday, April 25, 2014

Arty Farty Friday ~ Romaine Brooks

 Photograph by  Carl Van Vechten, 1935.
I haven't featured nearly as many female painters as male painters on Arty Farty Fridays - it's time for another. Though this painter was female she was not, as the song goes, "strictly a female female", by sexual orientation she was lesbian.

Romaine Brooks, born in Rome, Italy on 1 May 1874 into a fabulously wealthy but dysfunctional Philadelphia family. Her childhood was dire, father absconded early on, mother became abusive when present, left her daughter with a family servant, or in a private school in Europe during long periods of maternal absence, adventuring abroad.

In the late 1890s Romaine attended painting classes at establishments in Rome and Paris. Her mother died in 1902; at age 28 Romaine inherited the whole of the huge family fortune. She moved to London soon after, made a marriage of convenience to a well known but penniless gay pianist. The marriage, unsurprisingly, didn't work out. Romaine had eschewed all trappings of femininity, cropped her hair, began wearing masculine style clothes. The pianist was not impressed! They separated after 3 months, though it is said that she continued to provide him with lifelong financial support. After the separation she adjusted her name, in order to appear more androgynous. She was born Beatrice Romaine Goddard, at this point she dropped the Beatrice and retained her married surname, Brooks.

In London, in a rented studio close to where James McNeil Whistler had once worked, she began painting in earnest, and found easy resonance with Whistler's subdued colour choices, which would eventually be her trademark too. She was later to become known for portraits in subtle shades of grey to black.

 The Charwoman (1904)

In 1905 she decamped to Paris, mixed socially in all the right circles, painted portraits of well-heeled and titled women, including her then lover Princess de Polignac. Her wealth meant that pleasing her portrait subjects was not imperative; she remained ambivalent about selling her work. She did develop insight enough, though, into her sitters' characters to earn her the title "thief of souls". Gossip had it that one lady complained, "You have not beautified me", the artist's reply was, "No, but I have ennobled you".

In 1911, Romaine met dancer Ida Rubenstein in Paris. Rubinstein fell deeply in love with the artist, but the feeling, it seems was not entirely mutual, though Ida Rubenstein's "fragile and androgynous beauty" was the subject of some of Romaine's early portraits.

 Ida Rubenstein, 1917

 Jean Cocteau, 1912

In 1915 Romaine Brooks fell in love with writer and salon owner Natalie Barney. Their relationship lasted for fifty years. Romaine painted many of the famous lesbian visitors to Barney's salon, as well as Natalie Barney herself, as an Amazon; and Lady Una Trowbridge, lover of Radclyffe Hall.

 Miss Natalie Barney, "L'Amazone" (1920).

Una, Lady Troubridge, 1924

In 1920, Romaine Brooks was awarded the medal of the Legion of Honor from the French government. During the mid-1920's she withdrew from Parisian society. She and Natalie bought a custom-built house near St Tropez, really two separate houses connected by a common dining room. They often remained physically apart but emotionally connected, despite Natalie Barney's affairs.

 Self Portrait, 1923

In 1936, Romaine moved to New York City and rented a studio in Carnegie Hall. In 1939, as World War II began in Europe, she returned to France to live with Natalie Barney. When the house burned in 1940, Romaine returned to Italy, purchased a villa outside Florence. She faded from public life and remained in isolation after the war. In 1967 she left Italy for Nice. Romaine was reported to have grown somewhat eccentric while living in isolation; she died alone at the age of 96 on December 7, 1970. Natalie Barney died two years later in Paris, also at age 96.

More at
Wikipedia also HERE and HERE


Born in Rome, Italy on 1 May 1874. No time of birth available, chart set for 12 noon. Moon degree and ascendant will not be accurate as shown.

The cluster of planets in Taurus, ruled by Venus, planet of the arts would be a reliable indication that Ms Brooks was always likely to gravitate towards painting/drawing or music. Positioning of other planets, though, reflects some challenge. There's a Grand Cross clearly delineated: Sun/Moon/Saturn/Uranus (we can't be sure of Moon's position, but it's very likely indeed to be within limits to ensure opposition to Sun and square aspects to Saturn and Uranus.) I wonder if this planetary pattern reflects difficulties during her unhappy childhood, which, no doubt left scars to be dealt with later in life. This Grand Cross in Fixed signs indicates a resolute and determined nature - which is probably what helped Romaine Brooks through her unhappy early years. It might also indicate someone who could be a tad controlling and inflexible.

On the positive side, there's a nice harmonious trine aspect between Jupiter in Virgo and Venus/Mars in Taurus. This has an earthy, grounded feel to it, possibly manifested in her clinging to a traditionally realistic art style rather than joining some of the more adventurous avant garde artists of her time.

What might indicate her choice of using such a limited palette of colour, greys and black, in her paintings? Could it be Pluto sitting between her natal Sun and Venus/Mars?


mike said...

She's another that has one, single, final dispositor: Venus in Taurus. She would have had an intense focus on Venus-Taurus manifestations. With the North Node conjunct Sun, both opposed Moon, she was born during a lunar eclipse...if not exactly, then a few hours prior or post. Though Jupiter and Uranus are not sextile, their midpoint is exactly opposing Saturn, which strengthens the cross.

I like Brooks' has a sophistication and smoothness that I appreciate. The drab colors don't disturb me...lends a bit of solitude.

My mother departed Earth several hours ago. It's a good thing and no need for sympathy. Even through her severe dementia of the past four years, she has constantly requested that she be euthanized, as she was a prisoner in her body. A touch of melancholy this morning...a touch of joy...a touch of the surreal cosmic.

Twilight said...

mike ~ Oh! First my warm thoughts come out to you (and your sisters), on your mother's release from her latterly so uncomfortable earthly bondage. It'll be difficult to deal with, these events always are. The mix you describe now sounds like the kind of attitude your mother (as she once used to be) would have hoped you'd achieve at this time.
Please accept a cyber hug from this blogger who has had experience of similar times herself.


I quite like Romaine Brooks' style, and her colour palette too. The portrait of Cocteau is my favourite, due to detailed background and foreground - evidence of her clear abilities outside of the narrow field of portraiture.

DC said...

Fascinating...thanks for introducing me to this artist Annie :)

Twilight said...

DC ~ My pleasure! :-)