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Amazons in the Drawing Room: The Art of Romaine Brooks
October 11, 2000 through January 16, 2001
The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive is proud to present Amazons in the Drawing Room: The Art of Romaine Brooks, the first major retrospective in over thirty years to showcase the work of gay heiress and American expatriate Romaine Brooks (1874 – 1970). This comprehensive exhibition, organized by the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA), Washington D.C., combines works from the Smithsonian American Art Museum with paintings, drawings, photographs, and sketch books by the artist, drawn from significant public and private collections in France. Much of this material has previously not been available to the public.
Amazons in the Drawing Room presents Brooks's work in relation to early twentieth-century European society, and contemporary ideas about personal identity, class, and sexuality. The exhibition comprises four main sections: Portraits; Self-Portraits; Images of Ida Rubinstein; and Drawings. Brooks's painting was influenced by three main elements: her place in elite European social circles; her involvement in the homosexual literary and artistic culture of Paris; and her childhood experiences. According to NMWA guest curator and St. Mary's College, Maryland, Professor Joe Lucchesi, Brooks's works are also a visual record of the changing status of women in society, and of Brooks own refusal to conform to the social order of the day. Her rebellious nature can be seen in her paintings of nudes—not traditionally the subject of women artists at that time—and in the androgynous appearance of some of her portraits.
Brooks produced many portraits of Russian dancer and actress Ida Rubinstein during their relationship, which lasted between 1911 and 1914. Among these paintings are La France Croisée (The Cross of France, 1914), in which patriotic heroism is portrayed by a figure cloaked in black bearing the insignia of the Red Cross, and Le Trajet (The Crossing, 1911), which presents an image of female sexuality and morbidity. Also included is Ida Rubinstein (1917), in which Ida's windswept figure, again wrapped in a black cloak, is the very image of Brooks's romantic ideal.
Brooks's predominant subject was portraiture, and at the center of the exhibition are stark, gray-and-black-toned depictions of herself and her circle, which included the artist/filmmaker Jean Cocteau, poet and pro-fascist Gabriele d'Annunzio, pianist Renata Borgatti, and Duchess Elisabeth de Gramont, among others. Brooks's so-called "amazon" portraits of the 1920s, stylistically influenced by another expatriate artist, James McNeill Whistler, can be seen as the artist's bold attempt to fashion a lesbian identity for her sitters.
Brooks (née Goddard) was born in Rome in 1874 to prosperous American parents. In her unpublished autobiography, Brooks writes that she had a traumatic childhood. Brooks was raised by her mother's family following her parents' divorce, and as a child attended private schools in the U.S. and Europe. In 1902, she married gay British pianist John Ellingham Brooks and adopted the facade of propriety in exchange for a promise of independence. The marriage lasted a year. Brooks had her first exhibition in Paris in 1910, where she was acknowledged as a painter of distinction and commended for paintings of elegance and subtlety. A 1925 exhibition of her work, on view in Paris, London, and New York, confirmed Brooks's reputation as an accomplished portrait painter. By the late 1930s, she had stopped painting and become instead focused exclusively on drawing and writing her autobiography. Brooks became increasingly reclusive and retreated to her home in southern France, where she died in 1970 at the age of 96.
Symposium: The Modern Woman Revisited: Paris Between the Wars
Friday, October 27, 2 to 5:30 p.m. in the Museum Theater, U.C. Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive
Saturday, October 28, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. in the Annenberg Auditorium, Stanford University.
This two-day interdisciplinary symposium will explore issues of gender and sexuality among women active within the literary and artistic communities of interwar Paris. Admission is free. Registration recommended. For further information, please call (510) 643-2219. For registration call (510) 642-2358. The museum will provide round-trip bus service to Stanford on Saturday for $10 (please call for advance registration).
There will be guided tours of the exhibition on Sundays at 2 p.m. and Thursdays at 12:15 p.m. A sign-language interpreted tour will be available on Saturday, November 4, 1:30 p.m.
The exhibition is accompanied by a 144-page illustrated catalogue, published by University of California Press and Chameleon Books of Chesterfield in association with NMWA. It is available in hardcover for $50 and softcover for $24.95 in the museum shop (call (510) 642-1475).