Dorothy Brett (1883-1977), Turtle Dance, 1947; oil on canvas, 28 x 47 inches; Courtesy of Millicent Rogers Museum
Born: London, United Kingdom
Lady Dorothy Brett, a British painter who was known to associates as “The Brett” or simply “Brett,” gained her greatest fame and a hint of scandalous notoriety for her association with the celebrated author D. H. Lawrence. Their long friendship was detailed in her autobiography, “Lawrence and Brett.” Her artwork includes portraits, Pueblo dancers, landscapes and mystic or symbolic paintings that illustrate her admiration for the Native American culture of Taos.
Born under the reign of Queen Victoria in London in 1883, Lady Dorothy Brett was the daughter of Viscount Esher, a close friend and advisor of the Queen. Brett and her sister took dancing classes at Windsor Castle. Her first date was with Winston Churchill, and she was presented at Court before she was twenty. Brett never felt quite comfortable in her role as “Lady”, so Dorothy became a Bohemian in the original sense of the word. She chopped off her hair, dressed as she pleased in men’s trousers, and entered the Slade Art School. She studied under Augustus John, and took up with the renowned Bloomsbury Group. Her closest friends were George Bernard Shaw, Virginia Woolf, Aldous Huxley, Bertrand Russell, D.H. Lawrence, and his wife, Frieda Lawrence.
D .H. and Frieda Lawrence first visited Taos at Mabel’s request in 1922. They soon moved north to San Cristobal to live at Kiowa Ranch which had belonged to Mabel’s son, John Evans. For their second visit in 1924, they brought their dear friend Brett, who lived in a tiny cabin next to their small home. When they returned to London, Brett did not follow them. They came back to Kiowa Ranch for six months in 1925, but left for Europe where D.H. died in 1930. Brett was the last survivor of the legendary D. H. Lawrence era in Taos when she died at the age of 93 in 1977.
Photograph courtesy of Yale University Beineke Rare Book and Manuscript Library