Brilliant Exiles: American Women in Paris, 1900–1939

April 26, 2024 - February 23, 2025
woman in a flapper costume dancing on stage
Josephine Baker by Stanislaus Julian Walery, Gelatin silver print, 1926 / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

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. “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. 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.


Modern Art and Modern Women
  • Woman with a Monkey by Ethel Mars
  • Katharine Nash Rhoades by Alfred Stieglitz
  • Agnes Ernst Meyer by Edward Jean Steichen
  • Self-Portrait by Anne Goldthwaite
  • Rose O'Neill by Lillian Fisk Thompson
  • Self-Portrait by Anne Estelle Rice
  • In Exaltation of Flowers: Rose - Geranium (Katharine Rhodes) by Edward Jean Steichen
  • In Exaltation of Flowers: Petunia - Caladium - Budleya (Marion Beckett) by Edward Jean Steichen 
  • In Exaltation of Flowers: Golden Banded Lily - Violets (Mercedes de Cordoba Carles) by Edward Jean Steichen
  • Berenice Abbott by Isamu Noguchi
  • Self-Portrait by Berenice Abbott
  • Self-Portrait by Margaret Lefranc
  • Self-Portrait with Red Beret by Louise Heron Daura
  • Self-Portrait by Frances Cranmer Greenman
  • Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney by Jo Davidson
The Dancer of the Future
  • Portrait of Miss Winifred De Wolfe by Robert Lee MacCameron
  • Eva Palmer in costume for Natalie's Greek play by Unidentified Artist
  • Greek Dance, Neuilly by Unidentified Artist
  • Evalina Cortland Palmer by Alice Pike Barney
  • Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney in Bakst Costume with Fleurs du Mal by Howard Gardiner Cushing
  • Isadora Duncan by Abraham Walkowitz
  • Moonlight Dance - Voulangis by Edward Jean Steichen
The Stein Effect
  • Portrait of Emily Crane Chadbourne byTsuguharu Foujita
  • Sarah Samuels Stein by Henri Matisse
  • Gertrude Stein by Pablo Picasso
  • Alice B. Toklas by Pavel Fyodorovitch Tchelitchew
  • Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas by Sir Francis Cyril Rose
  • Gertrude Stein by Jo Davidson
  • Portrait of Katherine S. Dreier by Anne Goldthwaite
  • Theresa Helburn by Marion H. Beckett
  • Two Sisters by Marguerite Thompson Zorach
Literary Modernism
  • May Sarton by Polly Thayer Starr
  • Kay Boyle by George Platt Lynes
  • Katherine Anne Porter by George Platt Lynes
  • Edna St. Vincent Millay by William Zorach
  • Sylvia Beach by Paul-Emile Bécat
  • Jane Heap by Pavel Fyodorovitch Tchelitchew
  • Caresse Crosby by Polia Chentoff
  • Ballerinas by Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald
  • Djuna Barnes by Berenice Abbott
  • Sylvia Beach by Berenice Abbott
  • Janet Flanner, Paris by Berenice Abbott


The Stars of Montmartre Nightlife
  • Ethel Waters by Luigi Lucioni
  • Ethel Waters by Antonio Salemme
  • Nora Holt by Carl Van Vechten
  • Portrait of Adelaide Hall by Germaine Krull
  • Le Tumulte Noir/Dancer in Magenta by Paul Colin
  • Ada "Bricktop" Smith by Carl Van Vechten
  • Josephine Baker by Paul Colin
  • Josephine Baker by Stanislaus Julian Walery
  • Florence Mills by Edward Jean Steichen
  • Josephine Baker est aux Folies-Bergère by Michel Gyarmathy
Harlem’s Renaissance in Paris
  • Nancy Elizabeth Prophet in Paris by Unidentified Artist
  • Nancy Elizabeth Prophet in Hat by Unidentified Artist
  • Nancy Elizabeth Prophet by Geneva Higgins McGee
  • Jessie Redmon Fauset by Laura Wheeler Waring
  • Self-Portrait by Loïs Mailou Jones
  • Lillian Evanti by Loïs Mailou Jones
  • Loïs Mailou Jones by Céline Marie Tabary
  • Augusta Savage by Carl Van Vechten
  • La Petite Danseuse by Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller
  • La Citadelle - Freedom by Augusta Savage
An Academy of Women
  • Chasseresse by Romaine Brooks
  • Eva Le Gallienne by Miguel Covarrubias
  • Natalie with Violin by Alice Pike Barney
  • Laura Attentive by Alice Pike Barney 
  • Natalie Clifford Barney by Eyre de Lanux
  • Head of Natalie Clifford Barney by Laura Alice Dreyfus Barney
  • Self-Portrait by Romaine Brooks
Refashioning Modern Women
  • Elsie de Wolfe by Cecil Beaton
  • Mercedes de Acosta by Abram Poole
  • Peggy Guggenheim by Alfred Courmes
  • Thérèse Bonney by Jean Lurçat
  • Elizabeth Hawes by Ralph Steiner
  • Anaïs Nin by Natashia Troubetskoia
  • Anna May Wong by Edward Steichen
  • Helena Rubinstein by Roberto Montenegro