Biography / Art History / Women’s Studies / GLBT Studies / Modernism
Romaine Brooks A Life Cassandra Langer
“Langer makes clear that Romaine Brooks was an artist of unusual courage
and originality, tracing her development not only as an artist, but as a woman
artist and a boldly lesbian artist. This biography includes fascinating material
on the many talented, independent, and liberated women in Paris in the
1920s, with Natalie Barney and Romaine Brooks at the center of that milieu.” —Jerry Rosco, author of Glenway Wescott Personally: A Biography
The artistic achievements of Romaine Brooks (1874–1970), both as a major expatriate
American painter and as a formative innovator in the decorative arts, have
long been overshadowed by her fifty-year relationship with writer Natalie Barney
and a reputation as a fiercely independent, aloof heiress who associated with
fascists in the 1930s. In Romaine Brooks: A Life, art historian Cassandra Langer
provides a richer, deeper portrait of Brooks’s aesthetics and experimentation as
an artist—and of her entire life, from her chaotic, traumatic childhood to the
enigmatic decades after World War II, when she produced very little art. This provocative,
lively biography takes aim at many myths about Brooks and her friends,
lovers, and the subjects of her portraits, revealing a woman of wit and passion
who overcame enormous personal and societal challenges to become an extraordinary
artist and create a life on her own terms.
Romaine Brooks: A Life introduces much fresh information from Langer’s
decades of research on Brooks and establishes this groundbreaking artist’s centrality
to feminism and contemporary sexual politics as well as to visual culture.
Art Discussions: Romaine Brooks, 20th-Century Woman Friday, June 17, 2016, 4 - 7pm
Cassandra Langer is an art historian, critic, and appraiser.
She is the author and editor of several books, including New
Feminist Criticisms: Art, Identity, Action. She lives in New York
and blogs at cassandralanger.com.
“Exceptionally well researched, impressively written, deftly organized, and accessibly presented. . . . Very highly recommended for the personal reading lists of both scholars and non-specialists.” —Midwest Book Review
“[Romaine Brooks] was an unapologetic pioneer who broke all the rules, both as a lesbian and an artist. . . . As fascinating as Langer paints the hidden history of lesbian culture of the era, she is just as vibrant in her illumination of the era's art world.” —Edge
“Art historian Langer is zealous and exacting as she seeks to fully portray her heretofore too-little-known subject . . . addressing the complexities and contradictions of Brooks’s life and celebrating the courage and power of her meticulously composed paintings. . . . Langer sensitively grapples with Brooks’s elitism, bigotry, and fascist tendencies while avidly reclaiming this ‘fascinating and controversial’ artist’s elegant and evocative, haunted and defiant art in praise of audacious women.” —Booklist, *starred review
“A biography of the American painter and heiress (1874-1970), whose work in art and decor has been overshadowed by her romantic relationship with the writer Natalie Barney and what were seen as flirtations with Italian Fascism.” —Chronicle of Higher Education
“Langer performs a difficult balancing act with her fascinating biography of the lesbian painter, Romaine Brooks. . . . An excellent well-researched biography that recreates the tumultuous years of an artist’s life who refused compromise from her convictions, both personal and political, as naïve as some of her views may have been.” —Lambda Book Report (read the full review here)
“Cassandra Langer insightfully recounts the life of Romaine Brooks, including the sources of her creativity and blocks to that creativity in later life, her bigotry, and her contributions to twentieth-century British, American, and French culture. This readable, vivid biography provides social and general historical context for Brooks’s life, art, and writings, as well as incisive psychological analysis of her motives.” —Betsy Draine, author of Substance under Pressure: Artistic Coherence and Evolving Form in the Novels of Doris Lessing
“Langer is zealous and exacting as she seeks to fully portray her heretofore too-little-known subject, mining newly available materials, addressing the complexities and contradictions of Brooks’s life, and celebrating the courage and power of her meticulously composed paintings.” —Booklist
“Romaine Brooks has long glimmered in the constellation of lesbian and queer culture; now, through the prism of Langer’s tireless research and intelligent yet conversational style, the brilliance of Brooks’s life and career is both magnified and refracted. By turns anecdotal and analytical, journalistic and theoretical, Langer colorfully repaints the historical portrait of Brooks, revealing her as both more radical and more conservative than we thought.” —James M. Saslow, author of Pictures and Passions: A History of Homosexuality in the Visual Arts
“Valuable and fascinating. . . . Langer offers a vital intervention in the historical narratives about both Brooks and Barney.” —Woman’s Art Journal
View a panel discussion on Romaine Brooks and other LGBT artists at the Leslie Lohmann Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art.
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Of Related Interest
A Heaven of Words Last Journals, 1956–1984 Glenway Wescott, edited and with an introduction by Jerry Rosco