Romaine Brooks, née
Beatrice Romaine Goddard (1874-1970) was born in Rome,
Italy where her mother was travelling at the time. She
had a disastrous childhood between caring for her
mentally ill brother and dealing with her absent mother.
Her mother was willing to sacrifice anything to cure her
mad son and even abandoned Romaine at her washerwoman's
house in New York while she and her son went to Europe.
Romaine began drawing here.
Her mother died from diabetes in 1902, leaving Romaine
a fortune. She went to the artists' colony on Capri and
married John Ellington Brooks, a pianist who had been a
lover of W. Somerset Maugham. Their marriage was yet
another disastrous experience for Romaine but she
continued to support him after their divorce.
After her short marriage (1903-1904), she had several
brief encounters with the likes of Gabriele d'Annunzio,
Ida Rubinstein, Princesse Edmind de Polignac and Lord
Alfred Douglas. Her most famous lover, however, was
Natalie Clifford Barney, "I 'Amazone." Their
relationship endured for fifty years.
While she also made some exciting drawings, her most
important works are portraits. Robert de Montesquiou
dubbed her "Thief of Soul" and the nickname is
still used to explain her works. She was a perfect
portraitist who knew how to reveal the inner being of her
subjects. Her works are not only great examples of modern
portraiture but rare materials with which to understand
European society in the early 20th century.
She hated the parti-coloured, multi-patterned
Victorian aesthetic and loved "Mystery of
Gray." Her grays became her artistic signature. She
usually painted her figures against a subdued light,
flattening them out. D'Annunzio proclaimed her "the
most profound and wise orchestrator of grays in modern