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University of Texas at Austin

Dorothy Brett:

An Inventory of Her Collection at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator Brett, Dorothy, 1883-1977
Title Dorothy Brett Collection
Dates: 1898-1968
Extent 17 boxes (7.08 linear feet)
Abstract: British painter Dorothy Brett attended the Slade School of Art where she became friends with other Bloomsbury artists. In 1924 she travelled with D.H. and Frieda Lawrence to America, where Brett eventually settled in Taos, New Mexico. The collection comprises a large accumulation of letters written to Brett over her adult life including correspondence with Frieda Lawrence, Spud Johnson, Georgia O'Keefe, and Leopold Stokowski. Also present are a few manuscripts and some personal papers.
Call Number: Manuscript Collection MS-00506
Language: English.
Access Open for research

Administrative Information

Acquisition Purchases and gifts, 1968-1969
Processed by Chelsea S. Jones, 1998

Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Biographical Sketch

Dorothy Eugenie Brett, born in 1883, was the eldest daughter of the 2nd Viscount Esher, Reginald Baliol Brett, and his wife Eleanor. 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 left in the charge of a nanny and other servants. Once the boys were sent to school, a governess was retained for the girls. However, she was dismissed after a short time 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 of 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 Brook, 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 23, sending her off to their summer home in Scotland. There, 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 her family and went by that name for the rest of her life. Brett completed the four year 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 in town where the servants had begun to complain about the "goings on" of Brett's artistic friends.
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,Carrington and Augustus John and, in 1914, she met Lady Ottoline Morrell. In October of 1915 Brett met D.H. Lawrence and his wife Frieda.
Over the next several years Brett spent a great deal of time at the Morrell's Garsington Manor 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 into independence.
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 the 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 was 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 on 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 in near Frieda for the remainder of Frieda's life. Mable Dodge 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 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 94th birthday, dying on August 24th, 1977.


Brett: From Bloomsbury to New Mexico, A Biography.Sean Hignett. (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1984).

Scope and Contents

Letters received by Brett make up the bulk of the Dorothy Brett Collection, 1898-1968, augmented by a few outgoing letters, two works by Brett, and a sampling of bills, receipts, and royalty statements. The collection is organized into four series, within which materials are arranged alphabetically by title or author: I. Works, 1930, nd, (.5 box), II. Letters, 1922-1959 (.5 box), III. Recipient, 1898-1967 (14 boxes), and IV. Miscellaneous, 1902-1968 (2 boxes). This collection was previously accessible through a card catalog, but has been re-cataloged as part of a retrospective conversion project.
The Works Series contains two typescripts of Brett's memoir of her relationship with D.H. Lawrence, Lawrence and Brett (1933), edited by her in pencil. Also included in this series is an article Brett wrote, also about her memories of Lawrence, titled "Kiowa."
The Letters Series is small, containing one folder of letters from Brett to Dorothy Hopkins and one folder of letters to various individuals. The Recipient Series represents the majority of the collection and includes letters to Brett from people with whom she corresponded about D.H. Lawrence, about her paintings, from other artists living in Taos, and containing friendly gossip in general, as well as accumulations of letters from Ernst Auerbach, Kyle Crichton, Robert Davidson, Esher family members, Mark Gertler, William Goyen, Spud Johnson, Frieda Lawrence, Fania Marinoff, Georgia O'Keeffe, Mae Porter, Leopold Stokowski, and Frank Waters. An Index of Correspondents, arranged alphabetically by name, is located at the end of this guide.
The Miscellaneous Series completes the collection with some of Brett's business papers, including receipts, bills, insurance forms, and shipping forms for various pieces of art. Also included are poems by Dorothy Norman, a typescript of Mabel in Taos by Dorothy Hoskins, letters from Spud Johnson and Mabel Luhan to Dorothy Hoskins, and letters between Brett's various friends and acquaintances.

Related Material

Available elsewhere in the Ransom Center is a small collection of photographs in the Literary Files of the Photography Collection, two Vertical File folders of newspaper clippings, and a group of 19 drawings and paintings by Brett located in the Art Collection. Other works of art by Brett can be found in the following collections at the Ransom Center:
  • D.H. Lawrence
  • Robinson Jeffers
  • Aldous Huxley

Index Terms


Esher, Reginald Baliol Brett, 2nd Viscount, 1852-1930.
Gertler, Mark.
Goyen, William.
Hilton, Enid Hopkins, 1895-
Hoskins, Dorothy M.
Huxley, Aldous, 1894-1963.
Johnson, Walter Willard, 1897-1968.
Lawrence, Frieda von Richtofen, 1876-1956.
Levien, Sonya, 1898-1969.
Luhan, Mabel Dodge, 1879-1962.
Mansfield, Katherine, 1888-1923.
Marinoff, Fania.
Nehls, Edward.
Norman, Dorothy, 1905-
O'Keeffe, Georgia.
Porter, Mae Reed.
Rogers, Millicent A.
Spender, Stephen, 1909-
Stokowski, Leopold, 1882-1977.
Van Vechten, Carl, 1880-1964.
Waters, Frank, 1902- .
Wilder, Thornton, 1897-1975.
Young, Ella, 1867-1956.


Bloomsbury group.
New Mexico in art.
Painters, English.
Women artists.
Taos (N.M.)--Intellectual life.
Taos (N.M.)--Social life and customs.

Document types

Christmas cards.
Legal documents.

Dorothy Brett Collection--Folder List