Fact Sheet “The Art of Romaine Brooks”

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Laura Baptiste
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“The Art of Romaine Brooks”
June 17 – Oct. 2, 2016


Smithsonian American Art Museum, Eighth and F streets N.W.


Romaine Brooks (1874–1970) lived most of her life in Paris where she was a leading figure of an artistic counterculture of upper-class Europeans and American expatriates, many of whom were creative, bohemian and homosexual. Brooks crafted an androgynous appearance that challenged conventional ideas of how women should look and behave, and these ideas extended to many of the portraits she painted in the 1920s, which are some of her best known works. Brooks adopted a muted palette primarily of black, white and various subtle shades of gray, sometimes with highlights of ochre, umber or red, strongly reminiscent of James McNeill Whistler whose paintings she admired. Working in Paris at a time when Pablo Picasso and other modernist artists were challenging traditional approaches to art, Brooks maintained her independence from contemporary art movements. In the 1930s, Brooks began writing an autobiographical manuscript titled No Pleasant Memories, and created a number of line drawings as illustrations that are not conventional narratives or illustrations of the existing world, but ideas, dreams and emotional states embodied in archetypal figures. The book was never published, and Brooks all but abandoned her art career by the late 1930s.

Brooks’ exploration of gender and sexuality in many of her portraits led to renewed interest in her work in the 1980s, and her powerful images are still compelling to audiences today. This exhibition brings together 18 paintings and 32 drawings from the museum’s permanent collection, a number of which have not been seen for decades.

Commentaries about the artworks were written by Joe Lucchesi, associate professor at St. Mary's College of Maryland and curator of the exhibition "Amazons in the Drawing Room: The Art of Romaine Brooks" (2000). 

About the Smithsonian American Art Museum

The Smithsonian American Art Museum is the home to one of the largest and most inclusive collections of American art in the world. Its artworks reveal America’s rich artistic and cultural history from the colonial period to today. The museum’s main building is located at Eighth and F streets N.W., above the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metrorail station. Museum hours are 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. Follow the museum on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube. Museum information (recorded): (202) 633-7970. Smithsonian information: (202) 633-1000. Website: americanart.si.edu