Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Tamara de Lempicka

This is Tamara de Lempicka. Born on 16 May 1898, with the birth name of Maria Gorska, she was the second child of aristocratic Polish couple Boris Gorski and Malvina Gorska.

Her Garbo-esque good looks may lead you to think she's a Hollywood star. But instead, Tamara de Lempicka is the creator of some of the most iconic masterpieces in art history. Yes, she was an artist.

When Maria Gorska was 15, she spotted a handsome lawyer at one of her trips to the opera, and there on launched a personal campaign to snare the guy. Such was the guts, drive and invention that was to define the woman and her future, and her work. She eventually married Tadeusz Lempicki, the very same handsome lawyer she had set her mind on.

When the Russian Revolution erupted in 1917, it was de Lempicka's quick wit, well-made connections and seductive charm that got her husband out of prison. And with that the couple fled to Paris.

de Lempicka at work on a portrait of her husband, Tadeusz Lempicki

Paris was filled with bourgeois exiles from Eastern Europe. Tadeusz Lempicki was not able (sometimes documented as unwilling) to find a job. The couple lived in a cheap and cramped apartment and led a life far from glamourous.

When de Lempicka gave birth to their daughter, Kizette, she had to sell off her heirloom jewellery to be able to keep the the family afloat. Out of this despair, de Lempicka swore to herself she would return to a life of wealth and status, and turned to art.

Vase with Calla Lilies

She took lessons from French symbolist painter Maurice Denis, who imparted a lyrical sensibility to her style; and cubist artist, Andree Lhote, who influenced her Art Deco simplicity. She hung out at the Louvre, and studied the masters, including Botticelli, Michelangelo and Caravaggio. This was also around the time she became known as Tamara de Lempicka. Simply because she knew what the sound of a name could do for a person's persona and hence, lifestyle and career.

Woman with a Green Glove, 1928

Printemps, 1928

Tamara de Lempicka's first show was in 1925 in Milan, Italy, under the sponsorship of Count Emanuele Castelbarco. For this show, de Lempicka completed 28 new works in 6 months. That is how driven she was.

With her exceptional social skills, self-made inventiveness, superb networking, and not to mention extraordinary artistic talent, de Lempicka was soon inundated with commissions to immortalise on canvas countless friends, socialites, royalty, and her many lovers.

Portrait of Marjorie Ferry, 1932

Portrait of Ira P., 1930

Portrait of Mrs M., 1932

I think de Lempicka's work is simply quite genius. The foundations, composition and themes are almost classical, and the style and technique uber-modern and slick. There is a realism in her execution of light and shadows, and this is cleverly juxtaposed with a cool and crisp cubist treatment. Her work, by now, is all the rave. And de Lempicka was both a celebrated artist, and a glamour icon.

Glamour icon she may have been, but de Lempicka also hung out with the bohemian set of Pablo Picasso, Andre Gide and Jean Cocteau. On one hand, she worked the high-society rounds, and on the other, she was a free spirit who completely ignored what society was going to say about her.

de Lempicka created for herself a persona that was sophisticated and fashionable, yet artistic and bohemian - so clever she was in managing her Self as a brand, the fabulous would not denounce her as some shabby artist, nor would the arts circle doubt her artistic integrity and deem her some bimbo-fashionista. She was, seriously, a self-made woman. And in complete control of her status: sexy, sensual, self-assured, successful.

Self-portrait in the Green Bugatti, 1925

This is clear in her self-portrait, Autoportrait (Self-portrait in the Green Bugatti). Here, she is the driver, the ruler of her own Universe. She is helmeted and gloved, cold and inaccessible. But therein lies her free spirit, which sparked a whole new sense of beauty for that time.

With the rise of her fame and fortune, de Lempicka's lifestyle became increasingly reckless with cafe society, drugs and promiscuity. In 1927, her husband got sick of her ways, and left her. In 1928, they divorced.

Kizette in Pink, 1926

As a mother, de Lempicka was no better. Kizette grew up with her maternal grandmother in Italy, while de Lempicka revved up the social and arts scenes of Paris and subsequently New York.

Ironically, some of de Lempicka's best works are those of Kizette. Whatever little time mother and daughter spent together, Kizette was sitting as a model for her mother. As a result, she is immortalised in a gorgeous series, some of de Lempicka's most heartfelt and gravitating works.

Kizette on the Balcony, 1927

The Sleeping Girl Kizette, 1933

Soon after her divorce, de Lempicka remarried, to a Baron, no less, and cemented her position in high society. de Lempicka met the Baron Raoul Kuffner, an Austro-Hungarian royal, when she had painted a portrait of his mistress, Nana de Herrera, a few years before.

From her experiences with the Russian Revolution, de Lempicka advised her Baron to sell off property as soon as she sensed another World War on its way. This was much earlier than anyone else had anticipated. And together they moved to New York, and continued their lush lifestyle.

I am absolutely bowled over by de Lempicka's work, as well as fascinated by her life and how she led it. For a woman (and a woman of those times), she had amazing balls, to say the least. She had immaculate insight into how things worked, and remarkable foresight on who and what could and would grant her the happiness that she pursued.

To me, her life was a curious case of abstract self-invention, and abject recklessness. From the extraordinary will to learn and create for herself a life of wealth and artistic success, to the miserable existence she had to balance it out with, with drugs, promiscuity and being a negligent mother. What she created for herself was so larger-than-life, that perhaps even she could not keep up with her Self.

I just wish someone would make a movie about her life. Hmm... with... Cate Blanchett? Gwyneth Paltrow?? Jennifer Aniston??? I digress.

de Lempicka eventually lived out her old age, after the death of her Baron, with her daughter Kizette, in a quiet and chic neighbourhood in Mexico. She died in her sleep on 18 March, 1980.

Kizette de Lempicka-Foxhall went on to write a stunning biography of her mother, Passion by Design: The Art and Times of Tamara de Lempicka.


  1. She certainly was the diva that her paintings would suggest. What a woman !

  2. Oh I simply love her - this is the first time Ive even seen her art- been so out of touch and desperately want to get back into painting and arts.

    Stunning - love your jewelry.

  3. Stunningly beautiful woman. And I am loving her Art Deco-style paintings!