No Pleasant Memories

The Memoirs of Romaine Brooks

Note to Reader:

The following passages were carefully selected from the unpublished memoirs of Romaine Brooks. I had the priviledge of reading them directly from their original typeriter formatted pages that are securely housed and preserved in the National Archives.The headings below denote the chapter titles from where the passage was transcribed.

"If the title of this book: 'No Pleasant Memories' is not pertinent to certain periods of my life it is because those periods no longer belong to memory alone, they now form an integral part of the present." ~Romaine Brooks


"My personal attendant was changed so often that she became anonymous and often absent. Soon I made my home in public corridors of the hotel. Finding some quiet corner I would retreat there to draw oats, trees, and other country things to ease, no doubt, the sorrows of retrospection. These were my first drawings; I was about six years old at the time. One day, after I had arranged them on the floor, against the wall, my mother passed by. She stooped down and, looking at the collection, picked them up and carried them off to her room. I never saw them again, and fro[m] that time I was forbidden to draw.

My reaction to this was very curious. Though terrified, I began to draw indiscriminately on all sorts of objects-on my mother's white boxes, on the white window sills, and even with a pin on the polished wood of the piano. All of these efforts I proudly signed.

I am not inclined to believe that my disobedience was inspired by a spirit of rebellion. I was too young and friendless. Rather, I think that my desire to draw, stimulated by opposition, was stronger than any fear of punishment. In the long run, however, sufficient chastisement was meted out to discourage any further efforts when my mother was about. I soon understood that she was hostile to the slightest show of intelligence, and even more so to any display of personal talent. Later, whenever I sketched, it was on the sly. Pencil and pads were quickly hidden when the jingling of my mother's chatelaine warned me of her approach." (pg. 6-7)

"Mrs. Hickey"

"The very first day I managed to procure pencil and paper and a small drawer all to myself to keep these precious articles in. Mrs. Hickey said she would like a friend of hers to see my sketches and directed me to a window on the right of the fire-escape balcony." (pg. 13)


"This was, indeed, an unhappy moment, for added to the pain of forced confiscation was the disappointment on matters of art. All flights of imagination, drawings of devils, ghosts, spirits, and other queer people, were strongly discourage...

Finding no outlet for my imagination, I used to chalk on the blackboard, when I was alone. Such ephemeral fancies as would relieve the tedium of the moment." (pg. 28)

"The Visitor"

"Belonging to one parent was a disagreeable experience, I had no desire to belong to another. Before leaving, however, he spoke to me of my gift for drawing and of his admiration for Gustave Dore."(pg. 29)

"The Lady Principal"

"I won the much coveted prize for writing. The highest degree of perfection in this copy-book calligraphy lay in the ability to dash off scrolls, flowers and birds with one dash of the pen, the whole making a beautiful and effective ending to one's signature of so desired. This work, remotely connected with drawing, was very soon mastered, and at the end of the year I found myself the proud possessor of a gold pen."-given to her by her writing teacher." (pg. 33)

"His Keeper"

"I think my brother was generally aware of my presence. He felt my sympathy and accepted it in a form so comfortably remote. He was to me the less fearful of the two strange creatures that encircled me; moreover, in his crazy fashion, his was the only protection I could hope to find.(pg. 48)"


"Some weeks later, at the very height of my popularity, I even ventured so far as to amuse my admirers with drawings chalked on the blackboard. Shouts of applause greeted each caricature, I am afraid that among others my mother's angry face and my poor brother's also had each its successful turn. Scarcely had I finished the back view of a tortured priest officiating with uplifted hands when the Dantesque Sister walked in. On viewing my comic sketch she gave vent to such torrents of Latin wrath that when the chalk had been snatched from my hand and the offending lives dramatically effaced, I gladly fled from the classroom, taking refuge in the great vaulted kitchen which was, incidentally, the only warm place in the whole convent." (pg64)

"My Work"

"The outcome of my disgrace was to draw attention to my pictorial gift, and as all talents were put to some account by the community, I was promoted to the post of all-round draughtsman for the convent."

"The highest honor came by way of insinuation that when received into the sisterhood I should be allowed to co-operate as drawing teacher." (pg. 65)

"The Gold Louis"

"It was fortunate for me also that during my convalescence I could draw contentedly for hours at a time."

"The Russian Girl"

"Her admiration of my draughtsmanship was such that she would amass all the sketches and caricatures which I drew on the margins of my copybooks during lesson times." (pg.91)

"Human Nature being what it is, it would certainly have been surprising if my mother's drastic orders depriving me of amusements enjoyed by my companions-theatres, small dances, even drawing lessons-were not to reflect upon my unfavorably."(pg.91)

"The make-believe was over. There was now plenty of time to draw sad drooping figures under equally sad, dropping willow trees; of if the mood demanded, Death and the Devil rocking the cradle of doomed infants. I still possess the drawings of this last subject." (pg. 92)

"Mademoiselle Tobet"

"I have already mentioned that it was my habit to draw sketches during lecture time. Not only had I never been admonished by my teachers for doing so but frequently had won their approbation. Mademoiselle Tobet was no exception, and at times she would ask to see my copy-books." (pg. 94)

"A Lost Entity"

"At that particular moment my plans for living the life of an artist were of necessity, pushed aside by the immediate urge for freedom..."(pg. 111)


"To show that I really belonged to the artists' community I draw on his pad a series of devils and angels' heads. These made him laugh, I felt hurt and resented this show of male superiority."(pg. 113)

"New Clothes"

"Now, though I did enjoy wearing new clothes my other artist's self would intrude at times. One day I insisted on drawing a likeness of one of the Demoiselles, much to her surprise, and I set about doing it instead of being tried on. When the drawing was finished, they were both pleased and pinned it up on the wall." (pg. 137)


"And the artist within me, the urge for sacrifice and hard work, those undeniable signs of the artist?

Then and there I was resolved to be consistent, to obey no other urge than that of my art, even though it may lead to the extremes of physical sufferings or to the depths of mental distress. And those indeed were to be endured for its sake." (pg. 138)


"The real struggles of my artist's like were yet to come." (pg 142)

"La Scoula Nazionale"

"I have sketch books filled with views of the garden, my face seen in the mirror, and my left hand in all possible foreshortenings."(pg 143)

"La Flora"

"The determination to remain outside the circle of conventions, the disdain felt for the protected ones within that circle. Did I not consider myself as one of 'Les Lapides'?" (pg.145)

..."My rebellion took the form of hating conventional."(pg. 145)

"In my sketch-book there is a Burne-Jones-like drawing showing me asleep on the bench with my head resting on the Oxford friend's lap. This sketch-book also contains many of my own drawings of the churches and towers of Assisi." (pg 147)

"I doubt whether I thought this a compliment for being unable to afford models I had filled my sketch-book with long, mournful faces supposed to be mine. My arched eyebrows were drawn straight, and the general expression had a sarcastic turn which I am sure was not the case. But this evidently the way I wanted to look for a curved and even smiling profile was purposely ignored." (pg. 148)


"There was a prospect of her buying a drawing, but why that should have seemed possible remains a mystery."

"Suddenly I saw her eyes dilate with horror. She had caught sight of my drawings tacked to the wall."

'Is it possible that you draw these?'

"Those were charcoal sketches of completely nude models which I had done at the Scoula where loin cloths were not worn. I was so shocked at her attitude that I remained silent." (pg. 155)


"To the artist, only what the Ego has awakened can be worth the keeping." (pg. 157)

"Riviera Jungles"

"But one day she spoke of my art. 'Aren't you ever going to paint again?' she asked. Her question startled me. Of course I am going to paint again. How was it that I had neglected for so long the only thing that really mattered? Not long after this I was ever making plans to go away in order to begin my work. It was a victory..."(pg. 197)

"The Walking Tour"

"It was also at that time that I decided to forego the many fateful prerogatives of my sex, the complexity of female clothes for instance. It would now be possible to live the simple life garbed solely in male sport attire. Then a long walking tour from town to town burdened only with knapsack and sketchbook would do much to bring back a more normal state of mind. (pg. 200)"

"So there were to be no walking tour with knapsack and sketchbook, no help in my efforts to escape the conventional I could but choose to face the future alone." (pg. 200)

"The Perugino Head"

"that I began harboring doubts as to whether all was well with my work. What had I accomplished? Surely nothing more than a students work. I reviewed my canvases; these showed distinction only in that they all expressed uniform melancholy. Roman models in spite of gaily striped shawls and jaunty head-gear were pensive and sad; the sun-tanned Capri peasants expressed no less such introspective moods..." (pg.203)

"I was so dissatisfied with my work that it seemed to me useless to go on painting at all unless I could begin anew and forget all the many self-made rules which were impeding progress. 'Paint only what you feel' I kept repeating to myself. The result was still another melancholy self-expression: a young man with head bowed over a pink tie and evidently in the last throes of dejection. But it so happened that this head was accepted for an exhibition, and even such light success as that brought encouragement."(pg.203-204)

"First Exhition"

"It was as usual through the medium of work that I found relief and the disconsolate figures which I painted at that time clearly show the troubles that were agitating me."(pg.219)

"But when all was finished and I surveyed the array of sad introspective figures recalling as they did my own moods, I had a strong revulsion of feelings. How was it possible to expose in such fashion one's inner self to the world? I felt no less nude than were the nudes on the walls. Were it possible I would have given orders then and there to have my paintings taken down and sent back to my studio."

"The exhibition was a success." (pg. 219)

"A Stranger"

"By nature a stranger everywhere there could be for me no conforming to any definite trend in my opinion a form of compliance; it held down and bound one to what should have served merely as a means of escape."

"But somehow I remained fixed like a prisoner, angry, impatient and only marking time as it seemed, yet, perforce, all the while helping to form that irrevocable upward and downward lines." (pg.257)

"The Luncheon"

"Of those melancholy and life denying creatures was there a single one that could have played even a minor role in the great love dramas of the world?"(pg. 244)

"The Portrait"

"Friendship has always seemed to me the ultimate goal though it may need wings to attain it." (pg. 254)