Artist profile: Tamara de Lempicka

Unfinished Self-Portrait (c. 1928)

I used The Musician by Tamara de Lempicka (1898-1980) in my post illustrating the difference between Art Nouveau and Art Deco.

And I still think de Lempicka’s is a great example of Art Deco style. However, it has a definite sensuality and life to it that I think other Art Deco artists lack.

Young Lady with Gloves (1930)

de Lempicka was born in 1898 in Poland and her parents and relatives were very rich. She grew up vacationing and attending school in all the best places in Europe and it probably never crossed her mind that she would be anything other than rich her whole life. Her name then was Maria Gorska.

At age sixteen or seventeen, she became Maria Lempicki when she married a poor lawyer, Taduesz Lempicki. Her (rich) uncle gave her a dowry.

Portrait of Tadeusz de Lempicki (c. 1928)

The couple lived in St. Petersburg for a year, during which she probably gave birth to her only child, Kizette. The sources vary on when and where Kizette was born but agree that Maria was very young. So young, in fact, that in later years she often pretended Kizette was her younger sister.

Portrait of a Little Girl with Her Teddy Bear (c.1922), Kizette in Pink (c. 1926), Kizette on the Balcony (1927)

Taduesz was arrested during the Russian Revolution. The story goes that Maria used her feminine wiles to free him from prison. They escaped to Paris, where she changed her name to Tamara de Lempicka. There, her wealth and artistic ability kept her in the most exciting and exclusive social circles. She became friends with famous photographers and reproduced dramatic photographic lighting effects in her paintings.

Portrait of Romana de la Salle in Profile (1928)

With World War II on the horizon, she moved to the U.S, living in Hollywood and New York with her new husband, Baron Raoul Kuffner. (Taduesz had proved to be a ladies man and didn’t want to work, while Tamara had numerous affairs with both men and women, so neither was happy in the relationship.)

Unfortunately, Americans were more interested in her title and social activities than her art, and her career declined over the next twenty years. She moved on to painting with a palette knife and abstract art.

Two Kneeling Figures (1953)

But, as she lived to the age of 82, she saw her works rediscovered in the 1970s. Her legacy of strong, sensual, and modern female subjects found a new audience, including famous collectors like Madonna and Barbra Streisand.

I like de Lempicka’s intensity, command of light and shadow, how she fused the sharpness of Cubism (which I’m not fond of) with the lushness of the Renaissance, and how she continued painting portraits long after portraiture became dominated by photography.

Woman and Stag (1923)
Face Study (1938) with Botticelli‘s Madonna of the
Portrait of Mrs. Boucard (1931)

Links for Tamara de Lempicka:


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