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 Dorothy Eugenie Brett  (1883 - 1976)

About: Dorothy Eugenie Brett
 

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Lived/Active: New Mexico / England/Mexico      Known for: fantasy naive Indian-ceremonial painting

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Dorothy Eugenie Brett
from Auction House Records.
Shrouded Figures Under a full moon
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in London, England, to a wealthy family with ties to royalty, she became a noted long-time resident artist of Taos, New Mexico.  She grew up in the court of Queen Victoria and took dancing lessons with the Queen's grandchildren.  She saw her first American Indian when she was age five attending a performance in London of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.  She determined to be an artist, which was counter to her parent's social expectations of her, and she enrolled in the Slade School of Art in 1910 and graduated six years later.  Titled the "Honorable Dorothy Brett," she also attended University College.

She began painting portraits of English celebrities including novelist D.H. Lawrence, and she went to Taos with him and his wife in 1924. It was supposed to be a short visit, but she remained, becoming a U.S. citizen in 1938. She began painting Indian genre but was hesitant because her background was academic landscape and portrait painting. Her first Indian depiction was a rabbit hunt. She became a close associate of socialite/artist Mabel Dodge Luhan, and she and Luhan and Frieda Lawrence became such close friends and fixtures of society in Taos that they were known as the "Three Fates." They were marked by their attachment to D.H. Lawrence. Nearly deaf, she had a brass ear trumpet that she called Tobey, a long contraption with a slit at the end.

Her painting style is primitive, and her expressions of Indian life were romanticized.

Biography from David Cook Galleries:
Born in England to an aristocratic family, Dorothy Brett led a sheltered early life. In 1910, she began study at the Slade School of Art in London where she became associated with the Bloomsbury group, a coterie of English writers, philosophers, and artists. During this period, she started going deaf and confided to Bertrand Russell that it was only her art that kept her from taking her own life.

Among the people she met in London was novelist D. H. Lawrence, who had traveled to Taos in 1923 at the behest of patron of the arts Mabel Dodge Luhan, who was responsible for introducing many artists and writers to the area. Indulging in a dream of beginning a utopian community in New Mexico, he returned to England to attempt to persuade friends and colleagues to join him. Dorothy Brett alone accepted his offer. As a child, she had seen Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and was fascinated by the reenactments of Indians in feathered headgear chasing stagecoaches. The promise of seeing the Wild West in real life was not to be ignored. She soon left for New Mexico, a decision that would encourage her lifelong fascination with Native American culture.

The following year, D.H. Lawrence, his wife Frieda, and Dorothy Brett arrived in Taos and stayed at Mabel Dodge Luhan’s home. Later Luhan gave D.H. Lawrence and Dorothy Brett 160 acres on her ranch twenty miles north of Taos where Brett took the smaller of two cabins and helped with carpentry and typing in addition to attending to her painting.

When the Lawrences left in 1925, Brett stayed on alone at the ranch, living in poverty for several years. She survived by selling her paintings of Pueblo Indians to tourists. Over time, her work took on a more mystical quality. She was the first Taos artist to defend the transcendental painter, Emil Bistram, and she must have felt a connection with his theosophy-inspired aesthetic. She was initially too hesitant to depict the rituals that fascinated her, although they would eventually become her primary subject. Her later pieces are characterized by a stylization that suggests the rhythms of the dances and chants.

Exhibited: Corcoran Gallery, 1932; Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1950; University of Illinois, 1953; American-British Art Club, 1950;

Works held: Museum of New Mexico; Buffalo Museum of Science.

Further Reading: The Illustrated Biographical Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West, Peggy and Harold Samuels, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York, 1976.; Independent Spirits: Women Painters of the American West, 1890-1945, Patricia Trenton, Ed., Published for the Autrey Museum of Western Heritage by the University of California Press, Berkeley & Los Angeles, California, 1995.
©David Cook Galleries, LLC.

EXHIBITIONS

Corcoran Gallery, 1932; Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1950; University of Illinois, 1953; American-British Art Club, 1950;

COLLECTIONS

Museum of New Mexico

Buffalo Museum of Science

Further Reading:

"The Illustrated Biographical Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West", Peggy and Harold Samuels, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York, 1976.

"Independent Spirits: Women Painters of the American West, 1890-1945", Patricia Trenton, Ed., Published for the Autry Museum of Western Heritage by the University of California Press, Berkeley & Los Angeles, California, 1995.

"Lawrence and Brett: A Friendship", Dorothy Brett with a prologue and epilogue by John Manchester, Sunstone Press, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1974.

"Legendary Artists of Taos", Mary Carroll Nelson, Watson-Guptill Publications, New York, 1980.

"Picturesque Images from Taos and Santa Fe", Denver Art Museum, Denver, Colorado, 1974.

"Who Was Who in American Art 1564-1975": 400 Years of Artists in America, Vol. 1. Peter Hastings Falk, Georgia Kuchen and Veronica Roessler, eds.,Sound View Press, Madison, Connecticut, 1999. 3 Vols.

Biography from Altermann Galleries and Auctioneers, II:
Born: London, England 1883

Modern Taos painter, writer

The Honorable Dorothy Brett was educated privately and took dancing lessons with Queen Victoria’s grandchildren. Beginning in her mid-20’s, she studied four years at the Slade School of Art in London and at University College. An aristocrat, she painted portraits of the English celebrities of the time including the novelist DH Lawrence. When the Lawrences and Lady Brett visited Taos in 1924, she remained, becoming a citizen in 1938. She is remembered as with her “fabulous brass ear-trumpet named Tobey, a long contraption with a round half-open slot at the end.”

Her paintings are consciously “primitive” in style, aiming at “combining the real and spiritual worlds.” Also, “her Indians are subtle, wild and sweet , with the slant-eyed look of fauns.” Her women are “intensely feminine.” She makes it “glamorous and always stylish.” She wrote “Lawrence and Brett” and contributed to The New Yorker magazine. Like other Europeans of her generation, her preoccupation with the American Indian came from seeing the touring Wild West Show of Buffalo Bill: “I fell in love with” one of the Indians who “rode wildly around the arena, naked, painted lemon yellow, wearing a great war bonnet with its feathers cascading down to his horse’s feet.” To paint the Indian ceremonials, she draws from memory, setting down her personal interpretations rather than reporting.

Resource: SAMUELS’ Encyclopedia of ARTISTS of THE AMERICAN WEST,
Peggy and Harold Samuels, 1985, Castle Publishing

Biography from Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery Santa FeTucson:
Dorothy Brett was born into great privilege in Victorian England and went on to become a painter of Native American scenes in Taos, New Mexico.

The daughter of one of Queen Victoria's closest advisors, Brett took art and dance lessons with royalty as a child and eventually went on to study painting at the Slade School of Art and University College, London. A bon vivant and socialite, her paintings were generally portraits of friends and acquaintances, amongst them the playwright George Bernard Shaw and the novelists Virginia Woolf and D.H. Lawrence. The Lawrences were dear friends of Brett and, when they accepted an invitation by Mabel Dodge Luhan to visit her in Taos, New Mexico, she came along.

Brett first arrived in Taos in 1924. She became inseparable from Frieda Lawrence and Mabel Dodge Luhan to the extent that they were known as "The Three Fates" in Taos social circles. Brett began to paint the native peoples of Taos, whom she found to be more peaceful and sedate than the warrior characters on horseback that she had seen as a girl in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show in London. Her paintings took on a primitive air, depicting the Indians as a simple and spiritual culture.

When D.H. and Frieda left, Dorothy stayed. In 1938 she became a U.S. citizen. Deaf for the majority of her life, she carried an ornate brass ear trumpet named "Tobey" wherever she went. Dorothy Brett died in 1977. Her work is in the permanent collection of the Museum of New Mexico and the Buffalo Museum of Science.

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Dorothy Brett is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Taos Pre 1940
Women Artists

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