Romaine Brooks at the American Art Museum

Romaine Brooks Self Portrait

Romaine Brooks Self Portrait

I waited far too long to visit the American Art Museum’s Romaine Brooks exhibition, which had been running all summer.  I finally got to see it last weekend, just before it closed.

Renata Borgatti at the Piano

Renata Borgatti at the Piano

If an “artist” is someone who is ahead of their* time, and leads us to new, unexplored territory, Romaine Brooks was a great artist.

Her peak years were the 1920s, in Paris, where she was a central figure in a group of wealthy bohemian women who refused to accept the traditional roles assigned to females in their society.  Their financial independence allowed them to live as they wanted, without worrying too much about the social constraints that limited most women.

“Gender-fluid” is a term that went mainstream in the second decade of the 21st Century.  Brooks and her circle were living it almost a hundred years ago.  She captured that in her portraits of women in androgynous or masculine clothing.

A century later, we’re still trying to catch up.

Una Vincenzo, Lady Troubridge

Una Vincenzo, Lady Troubridge

Peter (A Young English Girl)

Peter (A Young English Girl)

From the exhibition catalogue:

“Peter depicts British painter Hannah Gluckstein, heir to a catering empire who adopted the genderless professional name Gluck in the early 1920s.  By the time Brooks met her at one of Natalie Barney’s literary salons, Gluckstein had begun using the name Peyter (Peter) Gluck. She unapologetically wore men’s suits and fedoras, clearly asserting the association between androgyny and lesbian identity. Brooks’s carefully nuanced palette and quiet, empty space produced an image of refined and austere modernity.”

Earlier this year, the American Art Museum hosted a presentation titled “Romaine Brooks, 20th-Century Woman”, which discussed “the artist’s social sphere, her life in Paris in the 1920s, and how through a unique aesthetic and persona, Brooks flouted conventional roles for women.”

Here are videos of three of the segments from the session:

*Yeah, I’m using “their” as the non-gender-specific singular pronoun.  Language evolves.


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