September 16, 2008

The Art of Tamara De Lempicka

Tamara De Lempicka (1898 - 1980) an artist who’s work was famous during the height of the Art Deco period. Her bold style mixed with rich colors captured the elegance of the 1920s, whereas her distinctive block method would later be called “Soft Cubism”. Like all artists that made the history books, De Lempicka never followed the rules. She would prove the modern day the slogan, “Well Behaved Women Rarely Make History” a true statement.

(De Lempicka, Tamara. Jeune Fille Vert. c. 1929.
Oil on canvas. Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris.)

In an age when men dominated the art world, she would not go unnoticed. She was independent and opinionated although she embraced her feminine sexuality and used it to her best advantage. She entered the prominent art circles of the time, using her beauty and charm and would eventually collaborate with famous artists such as Pablo Picasso and Georgia O’Keeffe.

(De Lempicka, Tamara. Autoportrait. c. 1925.
Oil on wood. Private collection.)

Tamara De Lempicka was born in 1898 to a wealthy family in Poland. Her parents were divorced when she was thirteen and she moved to St. Petersburg, Russia to live with her wealthy Aunt Stefa. Her mother eventually remarried, but Tamara having grown up in boarding schools, wanted her freedom from the family. She was very independent but, it was very much a man’s world. The only way out of the family would be to marry.

(De Lempicka, Tamara. Femme dans Dentelle.)

During an opera in 1913, Tamara saw the man of her dreams in the audience. At the age of only fifteen as soon as she set eyes on him, her ambition was to become his bride. Although her groom to be was a well known ladies man, Tamara swore that she would marry him. Her hefty dowry appealed to the prominent lawyer and they were married three years later in 1916.

(De Lempicka, Tamara. Les Filles. c. 1928. Oil on canvas.)

The wealthy newlyweds would not find happiness; aristocracy was soon to become a problem, during 1917 in Russia. The Bolshevik party, made up of the working class revolted against capitalism and the belief that all are equal. Russia was in chaos. The Bolsheviks broke into their house in the middle of the night and arrested Tamara’s husband. The Red Army was rising and the Provisional Government in Petrograd was overthrown. Tamara searched the prisons for weeks to find her husband during the October Revolution. Once she found him, she flirted with the necessary officials and secured his release using her European family ties. Afterward, they fled to Paris with many other upper-class refugees who managed to escape the Russian revolution.

(De Lempicka, Tamara. Portrait de Madame Boucard. c. 1931.
Oil on canvas. Collection Boucard, Paris.)

The couple did not fare well in their new financial ruin. Tamara sold her family jewelry and painted portraits to support them. Her husband on the other hand, was reluctant or unable to find a respectable job. Tamara gave birth to their first and only child, Kizette. The current domestic situation put a huge strain on the relationship and forced Tamara to spend more and more time in her studio than at home.

(De Lempicka, Tamara. Kizette Sleeping. c. 1934.)

Tamara commenced the study nude figures. She was fascinated with the idea of seduction and the effects of desire. The bohemian life style of the 1920s in Paris appealed to her and she began to have affairs with both men and women. She publically associated with the novelist Violet Trefusis, who was most notable from her lesbian love affair with Vita Sackville-West and with the scandalous French novelist and former actress Colette, who was known for her famous lesbian kiss on the stage of the Moulin Rouge. The kiss nearly caused a riot at that time and the police were called in to suppress the public.

(De Lempicka, Tamara. Printemps. c. 1928. Private collection.)

Tamara eventually became romantically involved with the French singer and actress, Suzy Solidor who was an open lesbian. Suzy was painted by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and eventually by Tamara. Frustrated by Tamara’s rumored sex life, her husband eventually tired of their arrangement and abandoned her in 1927. They were divorced in 1928.

(De Lempicka, Tamara. Suzy Solidor. c. 1933. Oil on wood.)

With her new found freedom, Tamara became obsessed with her work and social life. She was commissioned by her long time patron, Baron Raoul Kuffner to paint his mistress. Tamara finished the portrait and then took her place as the Baron’s new mistress.

(De Lempicka, Tamara. Femme a Guitare. c. 1929.
Oil on canvas. Private collection.)

In 1933 she traveled to Chicago where she worked with Georgia O’Keeffe, Santiago Martinez Delgado and Willem de Kooning. Soon after, the Baron’s wife died and she married her lover. They eventually moved the United States together in 1939.

(De Lempicka, Tamara. Andromeda. c. 1929. Private collection.)

Madonna, the contemporary American singer, is a huge fan and collector of Lempicka’s work. Andromeda is featured at the beginning of Madonna’s "Open Your Heart" video (1987) and the Femme a Guitare can be seen at the beginning of Madonna’s "Vogue" video (1990).

(De Lempicka, Tamara. Portrait de Marjorie Ferry. c. 1932.)

Can you see the huge influence that the Portrait of Marjorie and Dormeuse had on the costumes and the set of Madonna’s “Express Yourself” video (1989). They are practically carbon copies replaced with Madonna in them. Not to mention that this could be how Madonna was influenced to wear her exaggerated designer cone bras. Now where would strong artistic women be today without the work of Tamara De Lempicka?

(De Lempicka, Tamara. Dormeuse.)

Tamara pioneered the role of women in the twentieth century art arena. It was now proven that women could be on the other side of the easel, as the artist and not just the model. Tamara’s life struggles and scandalous affairs are perhaps reflected in the dramatic artwork that she produced throughout her life and it is much appreciated here!

Enjoy :)

Learn More about Tamara De Lempicka Here.