This website is an interactive academic
tool for CEA-UNH course:
Gay Paris:
Culture, Society, & Urban Sexual Identity

CEA GlobalCampus | Spring 2009
UNH Course Code: GEN230
Credits: 3 | Location: Paris, France

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Romaine Brooks | Natalie Barney

excerpt from Wild Girls: Paris, Sappho and Art - The Lives of Natalie Barney and Romaine Brooks
_Diana Souhami

In Paris in 1905 Romaine bought a house in the Avenue du Trocadéro in the sixteenth arrondissement. In decoration, she used muted effects and scarce colour to reflect her sense of self. At roof level she had a glass studio with views of the Seine and the Eiffel Tower. She wanted each room, and all the furniture and paintings to provide backgrounds for her paintings.

Most of her portraits were of women: Woman in Black Hat, Woman in Green Hat, The Flowered Hat...In 1910 Romaine had her first solo exhibition, it opened on 2 May at the Galéries Durand-Ruel. She covered the red walls with beige and showed thirteen of her portraits.

They schmoozed together and called it 'dancey prancey.' Romaine was Angel, or Angel Birdie, Natalie was Nat Nat. They were 'Darling' to each other. When they met, in 1915, Romaine was forty-one, Natalie thirty-nine. Together they read Freud and Jung, James Joyce and D.H. Lawrence, 'but not his novels.'

Natalie was drawn to Romaine's strangeness and vulnerability. She said Romaine had no disguise, no pose and was a 'a real head and soul in an unreal world.' She tirelessly told her she was beautiful and a genius, her singing voice perfect, her paintings immortal. Romaine was, she said, dearer to her than her own life. 'I love my Angel better than anyone else in the world and prove it.' In return, she asked that Romaine should need her above all others.

For Romaine, Natalie's warmth and kindness were an unfamiliar gift. Natalie was not judgmental, nor did she recoil from the drama of Romaine's life, but the relationship was based on an understanding that Romaine must be above comparison. Romaine said that Natalie 'had an unusual mind of the best quality,' but she decried her Friday salons as gatherings of drunkards and society women; it was not a fair description of Gertrude Stein, Colette, Sylvia Beach, Lily de Gramont et al.

In 1920 she did a portrait of Natalie with nothing wild or Amazonian about it apart from a small model of a prancing horse in tribute to Gourmont's views. She made her look comfortable and friendly.

Their lives entwined. In Paris they lazed about on the grass by the lilac bushes in Bois de Boulogne. On Capri they stayed in the Villa Cercola, which Romaine acquired in 1918; it had terraced gardens, guest apartments and furniture made by local craftsmen...They opened a joint bank account. Natalie talked of their being together for the rest of their lives and of sharing the same grave: 'My angel is my only real companion and friend.'

Natalie Barney "l'Amazone"
_Portrait by her lover Romaine Brooks (1920) (Musée Carnavalet, Paris)

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