1874 - 1970

"I am not inclined to believe that my disobedience was inspired by a spirit of rebellion. I was too young and friendless. Rather, I think that my desire to draw, stimulated by opposition, was stronger than any fear of punishment. In the long run, however, sufficient chastisement was meted out to discourage any further efforts when my mother was about. I soon understood that she was hostile to the slightest show of intelligence, and even more so to any display of personal talent."

- Romaine Brooks

Born in Rome to a wealthy and highly dysfunctional family – Beatrice Goddard was abandoned and abused before eventually inheriting a fortune. In 1902 she married homosexual pianist John Ellingham Brooks, leaving him after 3 months. She took his last name, changed her first name, and became Romaine Brooks. She studied art in Paris, Rome, and Capri – but discovered her color scheme on the Cornish Coast. Returning to Paris in 1905 with a subdued palette dominated by grays, she primarily painted portraits. Her first solo show consisted of 13 pieces, including two female nudes, quite bold for a female artist in 1910. During WWI she painted ‘The Cross of France,’ symbolic of the nation at war, and received the Chevalier medal from the French Legion of Honor for her war efforts. Brooks brought a visibility to lesbian identity through her renderings of androgynous, oftentimes crossed-dressed, usually powerful and self-possessed women. Her most reproduced painting is a grim self-portrait (1923) in top hat and riding clothes. She was romantically involved with ballerina Ida Rubenstein, writer/politician Gabriele D’Annunzio, and shared a 50-year relationship with Natalie Clifford Barney - though Brooks maintained she was only fully herself when alone. After solo exhibits in Paris, London, and New York in 1925 she did only 4 more paintings, including a series of 100 single line drawings formed from a continuous curving line, created in 1930. She wrote two unpublished memoirs and settled in a villa outside of Florence in 1937. Increasingly reclusive and eccentric, she eventually refused to see even Barney. Romaine Brooks died in Nice, France in 1970 at the age of 96. Her work remains on permanent display at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.


Gender Female

Sexual Orientation Bisexual

Gender Identity Cisgender

Ethnicity Caucasian/White

Nations Affiliated France Italy United States

Era/Epoch Art Deco (1910-1940) World War I (1914-1918)

Field(s) of Contribution


Commemorations & Honors

French Legion of Honor Chevalier Medal For World War I Efforts

Smithsonian Institute Permanent Collection Status


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Original Biography Author
Owen Keehnen
Biography Edited By
Victor Salvo
Resources Coordination
Carrie Maxwell