Romaine Brooks, née Beatrice Romaine Goddard (1874-1970) was born in Rome, Italy where her mother was travelling at the time. She had a disastrous childhood between caring for her mentally ill brother and dealing with her absent mother. Her mother was willing to sacrifice anything to cure her mad son and even abandoned Romaine at her washerwoman's house in New York while she and her son went to Europe. Romaine began drawing here.

Her mother died from diabetes in 1902, leaving Romaine a fortune. She went to the artists' colony on Capri and married John Ellington Brooks, a pianist who had been a lover of W. Somerset Maugham. Their marriage was yet another disastrous experience for Romaine but she continued to support him after their divorce.

After her short marriage (1903-1904), she had several brief encounters with the likes of Gabriele d'Annunzio, Ida Rubinstein, Princesse Edmind de Polignac and Lord Alfred Douglas. Her most famous lover, however, was Natalie Clifford Barney, "I 'Amazone." Their relationship endured for fifty years.

While she also made some exciting drawings, her most important works are portraits. Robert de Montesquiou dubbed her "Thief of Soul" and the nickname is still used to explain her works. She was a perfect portraitist who knew how to reveal the inner being of her subjects. Her works are not only great examples of modern portraiture but rare materials with which to understand European society in the early 20th century.

She hated the parti-coloured, multi-patterned Victorian aesthetic and loved "Mystery of Gray." Her grays became her artistic signature. She usually painted her figures against a subdued light, flattening them out. D'Annunzio proclaimed her "the most profound and wise orchestrator of grays in modern painting."