Dorothy Eugenie Brett, born November 10, 1883, was the eldest daughter of the 2nd
Viscount Esher, Reginald Baliol Brett, and his wife Eleanor van de Weyer, daughter
of the Belgian ambassador to the court of St. James. Besides Dorothy, called "Doll"
by her family, there were two older brothers, Oliver and Maurice, and a younger
sister, Sylvia. The children were raised in a restrictive manner similar to other
children of the Victorian era. They saw little of their parents, being largely
in the charge of a nanny and other servants. Once the boys were sent to school,
governess was retained for the girls. However, she was dismissed after a short
and the girls' education was left to their mother.
The girls lived a fairly secluded life into their early twenties. Aside from dancing
classes with the royal children at nearby Windsor Castle, under the supervision
no less than Queen Victoria, their contact with young people their own age was
practically nonexistent. One friendship that they did make was with Margaret Brooke,
Ranee of Sarawak, a friendship disapproved of by the Brett parents. Over ten years
Dorothy formed an emotional attachment to the Ranee, and Sylvia attracted the
attention of the Ranee's son, whom she later married against the wishes of her
parents. The parents put an end to Dorothy's visits to the Ranee when she was
twenty-three, sending her off to their summer home in Scotland. There, General
Hamilton, an old friend of the family, saw some of Dorothy's drawings and persuaded
her parents that she should attend the Slade School of Art.
Dorothy Brett was accepted into the Slade School, on a provisional basis, in the fall
of 1910. Fellow students at the time included Dora Carrington, Mark Gertler, and
David Bomberg. In the tradition of the school, all students dropped their given
names and went by their surnames, and so Dorothy became Brett to everyone but
family and went by that name for the rest of her life. Brett completed the four
program at Slade, winning several prizes and honors in her sojourn there.
At the end of her second year, Brett's father set her up in a studio of her own,
partly to help her artistically and partly to move her out of the family home
town where the servants had begun to complain about the "goings on" of Brett's
Several important events took place in Brett's life during her school years. She
began to develop the auditory problems that would leave her dependent on hearing
aids for the rest of her life. She became friends with Gertler and Carrington,
through Gertler she became acquainted with Augustus John, and, in 1914, she met
Ottoline Morrell. In October of 1915 Brett met D. H. Lawrence and his wife
Over the next several years, Brett spent a great deal of time at the Morrell's
Garsington Manor near Oxford along with members of the Bloomsbury group. She seems
to have developed a crush on Ottoline which led to voluminous correspondence but
little else. In 1919, Brett's parents helped set her up in a house in Hampstead,
London, arranged for an annual allowance, and made a final effort to push her
In 1923, D. H. and Frieda Lawrence returned to England from North America, thus
setting in motion the second phase of Brett's life. Lawrence had been proposing
creation of a community called Rananim for several years without success. He felt
that he had found the perfect location for such a spot in Taos, New Mexico, and
now actively seeking members. Only John Middleton Murry and Brett seriously
considered the idea and in the spring of 1924, only Brett joined the Lawrences
the Aquatania bound for New York.
Taos became Brett's home. Though she traveled frequently to Mexico, New York, and
even made a few trips back to Europe, her roots were firmly planted in New Mexico.
She developed a strong emotional attachment to D. H. Lawrence, and after Lawrence's
death continued to live near Frieda for the remainder of Frieda's life. Mable
Luhan, another prominent figure in Taos, also played an important role in Brett's
life, alternating between protector and antagonist.
In New Mexico, Brett painted Native Americans. She was permitted to visit the Taos
Pueblo for important ceremonies and then transferred the images to canvas, creating
a series of paintings for which she is perhaps best known, the Ceremonials. Her
close relationship to D. H. Lawrence made her popular with the researchers who
sought to better understand his life. She lived to within a few months of her
ninety-fourth birthday, dying on August 24th, 1977.