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Brilliant Exiles: American Women in Paris, 1900–1939

April 26, 2024 – February 23, 2025

Brilliant Exiles: American Women in Paris, 1900–1939

National Portrait Gallery
8th and G Streets, NW
Washington, DC
2nd Floor, West Galleries

Through portraiture and biography, Brilliant Exiles: American Women in Paris, 1900–1939 illuminates the accomplishments of sixty 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 up new possibilities for women. The exhibition highlights the dynamic role of portraiture in articulating the new identities that American women were at liberty to develop in Paris.

Brilliant Exiles is 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. Included will be portraits of cultural influencers, such as Josephine Baker, Isadora Duncan, Zelda Fitzgerald, Loïs Mailou Jones, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Anaïs Nin, Gertrude Stein, Ethel Waters, and Anna May Wong. The exhibition is curated by Robyn Asleson, curator of prints and drawings, and will be accompanied by a major catalogue, published by the National Portrait Gallery and Yale University Press.

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