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  • HauntedThe Drawings of Romaine Brooks
  • Kris Somerville (bio)

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Figure 1.

Death and the Peasant, 1930. Graphite on paper, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Artist

[End Page 79]


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Figure 2.

The Soldier at Home, 1930. Graphite on paper, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Artist

In 1930, after Romaine Brooks sprained her leg, her doctor prescribed bed rest. The artist shut herself in her room in her Parisian [End Page 80]


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Figure 3.

It Makes the Dead Sing, 1930. Graphite on paper, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Artist

apartment on rue Raynouard and used the seclusion to begin her memoir, No Pleasant Memories. She also returned to her childhood love of drawing. During her time in a convent school in Italy, her blackboard caricatures of the nuns had gained her notice. Now she picked up a pencil and paper and followed the sweeping, wiry line [End Page 81]


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Figure 4.

Enemy Fat, 1930. Graphite on paper, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Artist

as it created eerie, fantastic shapes. The simplicity and fluidity of her pen-and-ink sketches both surprised and interested her. They evolved from her subconscious without premeditation, and she left them unedited and unenhanced. As a creative method it resembled the automatic writing of William James, the visionary poems of William Butler Yeats, the spontaneous prose of Jack Kerouac and the [End Page 82] action paintings of abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock.


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Figure 5.

Lethe, 1930. Graphite on paper, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Artist

In these drawings, Brooks was working out the psychological and physical deprivation she had experienced in childhood. She called them "introspective patterns imprisoned in encircling lines." Most are frantic figures trying to free themselves from the clutches of [End Page 83] horned demons or sinister jesters. There are also recurrent images of winged and shrouded figures, death-like heads and half-human beasts. Viewed as a series, the overall theme is cruelty and control. Each drawing bears her mark, a wing tethered by a rope.


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Figure 6.

The Past, 1930. Graphite on paper, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Artist

Romaine feared that these drawings of her inner demons would be misinterpreted. She also considered herself a serious painter, not [End Page 84]


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Figure 7.

The Impeders, 1930. Graphite on paper, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Artist

a doodler. Despite her reservations, her long-time partner, the poet Natalie Barney, convinced her to exhibit them in Paris in 1931 and in 1935 at the Arts Club in Chicago. A few critics admired her brave exploration of the psyche. They also appreciated the expression that [End Page 85] she achieved with a single continuous line. But most critics felt they were a waste of her talent, a reaction Romaine expected.


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Figure 8.

Mummy, 1930. Graphite on paper, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Artist

Brooks drew steadily for years, eventually producing over a hundred drawings, kept in a trunk under her bed, where they stayed long after she stopped working actively as an artist. Predicting that the drawings would take their place in art history, the French portraitist [End Page 86] Edouard MacAvoy reintroduced them in a 1968 March issue of Bizarre. They received further notice in 1971 at the National Collection of Fine Arts in Washington, D.C., and later at the Whitney in New York City.


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Figure 9.

Caught, 1930. Graphite on paper, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Artist

[End Page 87]


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Figure 10.

Angels Feed the Saint's Donkey, 1930. Graphite on paper Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Artist

Romaine said that the drawings represented the childhood terrors she was unable to escape. Her mid-Victorian childhood was eccentric, despite her family's wealth...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 79-92
Launched on MUSE
2007-03-06
Open Access
No
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