Brilliant Exiles: American Women in Paris, 1900–1939

April 26, 2024 – February 23, 2025
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Caresse Crosby (detail) by Polia Chentoff, 1927. Oil on canvas. Special Collections Research Center, Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

National Portrait Gallery
8th and G Streets, NW
Washington, DC

2nd Floor, Special Exhibitions Gallery

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Brilliant Exiles: American Women in Paris, 1900 – 1939 illuminates the accomplishments of sixty unconventional women who pursued their personal and professional aspirations in Paris. As foreigners in a cosmopolitan center of culture, these “exiles” escaped the constraints that limited them at home. Many used their newfound freedom to pursue transformative experiments in a variety of fields, including art, literature, design, publishing, music, fashion, journalism, theater, and dance. An impressive number became prominent 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.

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. The exhibition includes 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.