A life between Déco and Decadence: Tamara de Lempicka

Tamara de Lempicka

Today we tell you, on the occasion of the anniversary of her death, the story of the painter Tamara de Lempicka.

We will tell you about an artist capable of experiencing some of the most extraordinary changes in European society, both politically and socially in the 1920s, but above all we will talk about a woman capable of establishing one of the most famous artistic careers of that period.

The first years

Tamara de Lempicka was born in Warsaw on May 16, 1898. According to some theories, however, the artist was born in Moscow. Her real name was Maria Gorski, and she was the daughter of a middle-class family.

After the divorce of her parents, which took place during Maria’s adolescence, her rich grandmother took care of her, spoiling her quite a lot. For example, in 1911, while she was spending the winter with her grandmother in Italy and on the French Riviera, the young Maria was exposed to the art of Italian masters.

At the age of 14 she Maria she attended school in Lausanne. Shortly thereafter she went on vacation to St. Petersburg with her aunt Stephanie, whose husband, a millionaire banker, had their house decorated by the famous French firm Maison Jansen. All this comfort gave the girl an idea of ​​how she wanted to live her life. Sorry for the superficiality, but how can you blame her?

Soon after Russia and Germany declared war in 1914, Maria fell in love with Warsaw’s most handsome bachelor, a lawyer named Taduesz Lempicki. Two years later they got married and began to live in St. Petersburg. Maria’s banker uncle had provided her dowry and Lempicki, who had no money of her, was delighted to marry this beautiful 16-year-old girl. The two also had a daughter, Maria Krystyna, also known as Kizette.

A year later, Taduesz was arrested by the Bolsheviks and Tamara defied the October Revolution to free him, using his beauty to charm the favors of the necessary officials, as a kind of  Mata Hari, her contemporary. The couple then traveled to Europe before settling in Paris, where Maria became Tamara de Lempicka.

Tamara de Lempicka in Paris

In Paris, Tamara attended the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Montparnasse where she took lessons first with Maurice Denis and then with André Lhote, who influenced her the most.

At the same time, the Parisian art scene offered her the opportunity to get in touch with the upper middle class, in which she established herself for her talent and style. However, until 1925, she Tamara pretended to be a male artist by using the masculine form of her surname to sign her paintings. In 1925 there was also her first solo exhibition, in Milan.

She became famous precisely with the portraits of members of the upper class and also with nude drawings that lived up to the erotic desires of those days, painted in a characteristic Art Deco style. The Déco told of an exotic, sexy and fascinating Paris that embodied Tamara’s lifestyle and painting. Between the wars she painted portraits of writers, entertainers, artists, scientists, industrialists and many exiled nobles in Eastern Europe.

Her daughter, the above-mentioned Kizette de Lempica-Foxhall, wrote in her biography about her mother Tamara, called Passion By Design: “She painted them all, the rich, the successful, the famous, the best. Her work has brought her critical acclaim, social stardom and considerable wealth

Tamara de Lempicka goes to Hollywood

Tamara de Lempicka’s career peaked in the 1930s, but her marriage suffered and she divorced her husband. But she soon married the Hungarian Baron Kuffner. Her paintings began to change, becoming more and more decorative, losing their erotic tension.

At the threat of World War II, she Tamara and her second husband moved to America, in Beverly Hills, where she became “the favorite artist of Hollywood stars”. Her story vaguely reminds us of Ayn Rand, who changed her name and life once she arrived in the United States and who, like today’s protagonist, came from Eastern Europe.

A few years later, in 1943, the Baron and Tamara moved to New York City, to a beautiful apartment at 322 East 57th Street.

In New York, Tamara continued to paint in the old style for another year or two.

Paris and USA: Part Two

After the war, Tamara managed to reopen her famous Parisian studio in Rue Mechain, redecorated in the Rococo style. However, after the Baron’s death in 1962, the artist moved to Houston to be near her daughter Kizette.

Her pictorial style changed again: she in fact she began to paint with a palette knife, very popular at the time. The Iolas Gallery in New York exhibited her most recent paintings of her, but the critics were indifferent, there were not many buyers of her works and she Tamara promised herself never to exhibit again.

Although her work was ignored, however she continued to paint, keeping her canvases, new and old, in an attic and a warehouse. In 1966, the Musee des Arts Decoratifs organized a commemorative exhibition in Paris called “Les Annees ‚25“. The success of this exhibition generated the public’s first serious interest in Art Déco.

This inspired a young man named Alain Blondel to open the Galerie du Luxembourg and launch a large retrospective of Tamara de Lempicka.

This retrospective was to be followed by another exhibition at the Knoedler Gallery in New York City. But legend has it that Tamara made too many inquiries about how the exhibition would be set up, and the Knoedler curator left.

And then to Mexico

In 1978 Tamara moved permanently to Mexico, after having made some trips previously, and there she bought a beautiful house in Cuernavaca called Tres Bambus, built by a Japanese architect in a chic neighborhood. This house is very different from the one that Niki de Saint Phalle had built, do you remember the Tarot Garden? (Which, among other things, was started right around the time Tamara de Lempicka moved to Mexico).

Lempicka, in the last years of her life, had an enormous fear of growing old and, among the various possible consolations, she sought the company of young people. She cried a lot at the loss of her beauty and, because of this, she was short-tempered until the end of her days. We would recommend the Countess Dracula Elizabeth Bathory’s bloodbath treatment, maybe it would be suitable for her!

Tamara de Lempicka died in her sleep on March 18, 1980 with her daughter Kizette by her side. Her wish to be cremated and have her ashes scattered on top of the Popocatepetl volcano was granted.

Tamara de Lempicka a Verona (2016)

What does Tamara de Lempicka leave us?

In addition to a headache over the pronunciation of her name (Lempitzca, by the way), Tamara de Lempicka leaves a huge contribution to the world of art.

As is almost always the case with artists, after Lempicka’s death, her first Art Deco paintings were again shown and purchased. A play, Tamara, was inspired by her meeting with Gabriele D’Annunzio and was first staged in Toronto, then in Los Angeles for eleven years (1984-1995) at the Hollywood American Legion Post 43, becoming thus the longest-running comedy of the Californian city.

In 2005, actress and artist Kara Wilson starred in Deco Diva, a play based on Lempicka’s life. In addition, her life and her relationship with one of her models were fictionalized in Ellis Avery’s novel The Last Nude, which won the American Library Association Stonewall Book Awards Barbara Gittings Literature Award in 2013.

The contribution of the popstar Madonna

Curiously, however, we have to thank for the rediscovery of Lempicka, in addition to the numerous artists she has inspired, especially the pop star Madonna. The popstar is the main collector of her works. The American singer, in fact, fascinated by the biography of the painter, has become one of the main collectors of the works of  today’s protagonist and has lent some to museums and for the organization of events. This contributed in recent years to the rediscovery and revaluation of Lempicka. Madonna, in addition, featured Lempicka’s works in the music videos of some of her biggest hits, for example in Open Your Heart, Express Yourself, Vogue and Drowned World / Substitute for Love, as well as during the 1987 Who’s That Girl Tour and the 1990 Blond Ambition World Tour.

Other collectors of Lempicka’s works include actor Jack Nicholson, actress and singer Barbra Streisand and designers Dolce and Gabbana. Like last week, when we talked about Lorenzo da Ponte, we conclude with a quote from Tamara de Lempicka, a strong, determined, openly bisexual woman, an icon for feminism, who “lived deeply and sucked the marrow of life”

I painted kings and prostitutes… I don’t paint people because they are famous. I paint who inspires me and makes me vibrate




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