For the American women who made Paris their home during the early decades of the twentieth century, the city offered unique opportunities for personal emancipation and professional innovation. While living as expatriates in the international center of all things avant-garde, these women escaped the constraints that limited them at home and enjoyed unprecedented freedom and autonomy. Through portraiture, this volume illuminates the histories of sixty convention-defying women who contributed to the vibrant modernist milieu of Paris—including Berenice Abbott, Josephine Baker, Zelda Fitzgerald, Peggy Guggenheim, Romaine Brooks, and Gertrude Stein. Several of them rose to preeminence as cultural arbiters while exploring culture-shifting experiments in fields such as art, literature, publishing, music, fashion, journalism, theater, and dance.
Beautifully illustrated, Brilliant Exiles features essays that trace the divergent trajectories of American women in Paris, examining the impact of race, class, and sexuality on their experiences in the French capital. The texts also highlight the role of portraiture in articulating new conceptions of female identity that American women were at liberty to develop in Paris. Working collaboratively with their portraitists, they honed the images that would memorialize them and redefine the imagery of modern womanhood.
Published in association with the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
National Portrait Gallery
(April 26, 2024–February 23, 2025)
Speed Art Museum, Louisville, KY
(March 29–June 22, 2025)
Georgia Museum of Art
(July 19–October 12, 2025)