GR 290 (Romano's Star): 2. Light history and evolutionary state

We have built the historical light curve of the luminous variable GR 290 back to 1901, from old observations of the star found in several archival plates of M 33. These old recordings together with published and new data show that for at least half a century the star was in a low luminosity state, with B ~18. After 1960, five large variability cycles of visual luminosity were recorded. The amplitude of the oscillations was seen increasing towards the 1992-1994 maximum, then decreasing during the last maxima. The recent light curve indicates that the photometric variations have been quite similar in all the bands, and that the B-V color index has been constant within +/-0.1 m despite the 1.5m change of the visual luminosity. The spectrum of GR 290 at the large maximum of 1992-94, was equivalent to late-B type, while, during 2002-2014, it has varied between WN10h-11h near the visual maxima to WN8h-9h at the luminosity minima. We have detected, during this same period, a clear anti-correlation between the visual luminosity, the strength of the HeII 4686 A emission line, the strength of the 4600-4700 A lines blend and the spectral type. From a model analysis of the spectra collected during the whole 2002-2014 period we find that the Rosseland radius R_{2/3}, changed between the minimum and maximum luminosity phases by a factor of 3, while T_eff varied between about 33,000 K and 23,000 K. The bolometric luminosity of the star was not constant, but increased by a factor of ~1.5 between minimum and maximum luminosity, in phase with the apparent luminosity variations. In the light of current evolutionary models of very massive stars, we find that GR 290 has evolved from a ~60 M_Sun progenitor star and should have an age of about 4 million years. We argue that it has left the LBV stage and is moving to a Wolf-Rayet stage of late nitrogen spectral type.