The Other Amazon

Art historian Kerrin Meis recently gave a lecture on Paris-based painter Romaine Brooks, long overshadowed by her charismatic lover. I quote from the lecture introduction, largely because it contains my favourite new word, ‘retardataire’:

Romaine Brooks is best known for her relationship with the American expatriate writer Natalie Barney, and her paintings have often been dismissed as retardataire because she embraced the figurative in a period of artistic upheaval. But Robert de Montesquiou dubbed her the Thief of Souls, recognizing her uncanny ability to capture the essence of her subjects. Meis will briefly review Brooks’ life, beginning with her bizarre childhood, her flings and affairs, her life with Natalie, and will then turn to her portraits. Who are these people? Why this gray palette? How does she shape a new concept of femininity?

You can listen to the lecture here, and there will be more on Barney’s overlapping worlds next week.



  1. Linda Hollander

    FYI: No one ever speaks of this in relation to Romaine Brooks, probably because Winnaretta Singer, Lesbian extraordinaire, has dropped off the gay (and all other) radar, but they had a long affair, beginning about 1908.

    Romaine was in her early 20s, Winnie was in her late 40s. It appears to have been quite dominant/submissive, and Romaine has said it was quite a mother/daughter thing. I think the closeness wound down with the rumblings of the War, maybe round 1913. Both moved on to other women, but remained close friends until death, but I can’t remember who died first. Winnie died in 1943, and I THINK Romaine died in the late 40s/early 50s.


  2. Singing in a cabaret?! Could you have enough alcohol to keep you alert through what was surely something of a downbeat performance?

    Re: her husband, “A homosexual gentleman who was mostly unemployed…” My dream spouse! If only he had stuck around long enough to enjoy the 62 identical berets.

    Linda, are you researching Winnaretta Singer? Have you uncovered any info about Renata Borgatti, so dramatically painted by Romaine in 1920?

    • Linda Hollander

      Dear Butterscotch Clouds:

      I am so excited to be writing to you, as I have loved your email name forever!

      Yes, I have uncovered some info about Borgatti, but not a lot, since the period I am writing about currently is 1891 – 1901. I did a lot of research about Singer’s entire life prior to getting started, but when I’m in the thick of it, I tend to stay within the decade, as it were. And, life has intervened in the writing process as it so often does, so I have finished the first period (1881 -91, arbitrarily chosen parameters that correspond to the date of Winnie’s 16 birthday and first divorce, ten years later). Then I : moved out of my family home and left my husband of 38 years, got an apartment, a divorce, saw a grandchild come into the world and recently another, bought a condo, moved, caught pneumonia three times within this period, the life list is pretty full! I am going to begin the second part on November 1, come hell or high water, and I am going to write for a minimum of three hours a day come hell or high water. I actually am about 175 pages into this section, so it will come back, and THIS is the book I began to write, until winnie told me in no uncertain terms that she wanted ato tell her “backstory”! It was quite a shock, but there you are.

      I hope I haven’t been too long-winded. If there is any info on Borgatti that you need, or queries you have, ask me and I will try to answer…I do have a lot of research material, some of which I have only looked at in the most cursory way.

      Thanks for writing, don’t you LOVE Strange Flowers??


  3. Pingback: Circles: Natalie Clifford Barney « Strange Flowers

  4. Pingback: Romaine Brooks | portraits | Strange Flowers

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