Period & Style
Discussion by Jonathan Katz, co-curator of “Hide/Seek” and Chair of the Visual Studies Doctoral Program at SUNY-Buffalo.
In this self-portrait, Romaine Brooks uses a complex set of codes and pictorial conventions to assert her membership in the elite group of lesbians living in Paris between the world wars. Brooks’s upper-class status and financial independence permitted her a rare freedom of expression. Her position on a balcony, the threshold between public and private space; her sleek androgynous attire, coupled with her brightly rouged lips and thickly powdered face; the shadow that obscures (but does not mask) her eyes all signify, in various ways, her lesbian identity. As the contemporary scholar Tirza True Latimer points out, Brooks created a representative style that exists to this day.
"Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture" was on view at the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, from October 30, 2010 through February 13, 2011.
For more on the exhibit, visit the exhibit website at: http://npg.si.edu/exhibit/hideseek .
Romaine Brooks (1874-1970) / Oil on canvas, 1923 / Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; gift of the artist.