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Brilliant Exiles: Convention-Defying Women in Paris

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Tuesday, May 21, 2024 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET
Code: 1L0570
This online program is presented on Zoom.
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Josephine Baker by Stanislaus Julian Walery, 1926

A new exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, “Brilliant Exiles: American Women in Paris, 1900–1939,” illuminates the accomplishments of 60 convention-defying women who crossed the Atlantic to pursue personal and professional aspirations in the vibrant cultural milieu of Paris. As foreigners in a cosmopolitan city, these “exiles” escaped the constraints that limited them at home.

Many used their newfound freedom to pursue culture-shifting experiments in a variety of fields, including art, literature, design, publishing, music, fashion, journalism, theater and dance. An impressive number rose to preeminence as cultural arbiters, not merely participating in important modernist initiatives but orchestrating them. The progressive ventures they undertook while living abroad profoundly influenced American culture and opened new possibilities for women. “Brilliant Exiles” highlights the dynamic role of portraiture in articulating the new identities that American women were at liberty to develop in Paris.

Robyn Asleson, curator of prints and drawings at the National Portrait Gallery, provides an overview of the first exhibition to focus on the impact of American women on Paris—and of Paris on American women­—from the turn of the 20th century until the outbreak of World War II. She discusses portraits of cultural influencers, such as Josephine Baker, Isadora Duncan, Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, and Anna May Wong, among others.

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