Lot 115: Lillian Cotton, (1901-1962). Boston, New York, Paris. Possibly Natalie Barney and Romaine Brooks

Lillian Cotton, (1901-1962). Boston, New York, Paris. Oil on canvas painting, possibly Natalie Barney and Romaine Brooks. 1930’s, signed lower left “Lillian Cotton”, 40” x 40”, in period molded frame. Several small holes and cracks.

An elegant composition of two women loosely embraced, with a cat looking on as in so many of Lillian Cotton’s portraits from her Paris years. Cotton was from a prominent Boston family, studied painting in New York City from Robert Henri, the influential Ashcan School artist, at the Arts Students League, then moved to Paris in the late 1920’s where she would live out most of her life.

In the 1920’s and 30’s, Cotton painted prolifically in her studio in Montparnasse, and socialized with the network of British and American expatriates known as “The Lost Generation” as well as European artists and writers amongst the various salons of Paris, including 27 Rue de Fleurus, Gertrude Stein’s salon. She furthered her studies in Paris, training under P.A. Laurens, Lucien Simon and Andre Lhote. During this time, Cotton exhibited her portraits in Paris and in New York, returning to the States several times for openings including at the Fearon Gallery on 24th Street, Lucy Lamar Galleries on 57th Street, Condon Riley Gallery on 67th Street, and in her hometown of Boston at Copley Gallery on Newbury Street. In Paris her work was shown extensively, throughout the late 20’s and 30’s, including in several Salon of the Society Nationale des Beaux Arts seasonal shows between 1927 and 1937.

Cotton’s favorite subjects were other artists, especially other women. Her teenage years sketchbook (available at Harvard University, Schlesinger Library) shows a series of female forms and faces, including some portraits of women embracing, indicating an early interest that continued on throughout her painting career. Cotton and her husband socialized with several prominent lesbian couples in the 30’s, a lifestyle that would have been shocking at the time in any other city. It is hard to say definitively who the women in this painting are, but given Cotton’s association with Natalie Barney (1876-1972) and her partner Romaine Brooks (1874-1970), and their likenesses, they are the subjects. Barney was a notable American poet and playwright, a generation older than Cotton and well established in Paris by the late 20’s. Her salon at 20 rue de Jacob was a hotspot for expatriate and French female artists and writers. She is likely the subject here seated on the floor wearing red. Her partner, Romaine Brooks, was an American expatriate painter, and was also in Cotton’s circle of friends.

*An extensive archive of Lillian Cotton ephemera, including photographs, scrapbooks, sketch books, related geneological material is available for view at the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University.

Price Realized: $1,100

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