The Three Brothers, oil on canvas, 1964. Will Barnett, 1911-2012, Philadelphia Art Museum
The artist had a career of 80 years and, having cycled through most of the styles of his age, came at last to figuration.
A lovely painting of the mysterious, ambiguous, guarded, alert relationship between siblings.
Romaine Brooks had an emotionally impoverished, abused childhood and the fortune to come into an inherited mining fortune at 28.
Before that time she moved, very poor, to Paris and Rome for artistic training. After that time, she worked there and in London and Capri, returning from time to time to the United States. Her fortune allowed her to maintain a social circle in which her personal history, sexual orientation – she was a lesbian – and her living arrangements, which included a child placed in care when she was young, a white marriage and polyamory, if not hers than certainly of her lovers, were not condemned.
Romaine Brooks, photograph c. 1936. Carl Van Vechten
Her art was much influenced by James McNeill Whistler’s.
These are portraits of real people; and very skilled not least because she restricted her palate to monochromatic greys which made the representation of character and mood all the more difficult.
This said, it is disappointing how inert is the nude depiction of the actress and singer, Ida Rubinstein, below. Almost as though all the money and status in the world did not shield Romaine Brooks from the fear of depicting the nude female body as she knew and loved it.
The museum noted also, however, that the artist craved approval and social acceptance.
The Red Jacket just above it is just as melancholically inert.
Neither of these nude paintings approaches the sensitivity and insight of the artist’s other portraits deprived though they are of the insights of colour.
The artist left a significant portion of her work to the Smithsonian Museum of American Art in Washington, DC which exhibited these examples not long ago.
The Charwoman, 1904, oil on canvas
Le Piano, exhibited 1910, oil on canvas
Dame en Deuil (Woman in Mourning), c. 1910 oil on canvas
The Red Jacket, 1910, oil on canvas.
Le Trajet (The Crossing), c. 1911, oil on canvas. A portrait of Ida Rubinstein
Ida Rubinstein, 1917, oil on canvas
Romaine Brooks self portrait, oil on canvas, 1923
Peter, a young English girl (Hannah Gluckstein), c. 1923-24, oil on canvas
Baronne Emile d’Erlanger, c. 1924, oil on canvas
Una, Lady Trowbridge, 1924, oil on canvas
Le Duc d’Albe, 1925, oil on canvas.
Le Duc Uberto Strozzi, 1961, oil on canvas