It’s tough to decide on which artist to write about. One way to help me in though the process is to make sure I write about women artists. I have aways felt strongly about women being under represented in the art world, as in many walks of life. So today I am writing about Art Deco artist Tamara de Lempicka.
Tarama de Lempicka was born in Warsaw Poland on May 2 1898. Her father was a lawyer of Jewish heritage and her mother a Polish socialite. Both parents came from wealthy educated families. Her parents divorced in 1912. After this, Tamara traveled Europe and lived mostly with her wealthy Grandmother, living a life of luxury, traveling and seeing art galleries across Italy and other European countries. Italian art would influence her artwork in later years.
While visiting her uncle in St. Petersberg, Tamara met her soon to be husband Todeuse Lempicka, a lawyer, and married at 18 years of age. Todeuse had been arrested during the Russian Revolution and after much searching and favours, Tamara managed to get him released. This prompted Tamara and Todeuse into moving to Paris from St. Petersberg in 1917, leaving many of their possessions behind. There they lived with family, who were also taking refuge in Paris. Their financial circumstances were dire, with the birth of their daughter Kizette and Todeuse unable to find work. Tamara was determined to make her own money. This is when Tamara enrolled in art school. She was instructed by Symbolism artist Maurice Denis. Denis known for being a decorative artist, and Tamara learned about the use and assembly of brilliant, luminous colours. Cubist artist Andre Lhote was also a strong influence with his soft cubism style, clearly seen in her paintings. Between the Italian art she saw as a young adult, Mannerism, and French new classical art, then learning Symbolism and Cubism, Tamara developed her own unique style.
In 1922 Tamara exhibited with the fashionable art dealer Colette Weil and two other salons. With this exposure Tamara gained commissions for magazines and private work. Her painting “Tamara in the Green Bugatti” (1929) was painted for German fashion magazine “Die Dame”.
When Tamara was 24 years old in1925, she participated in The International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts. This is where the term “Art Deco” originates from. After this exhibition her notoriety grew. Even though she was married with a young child, Tamara subscribed to the bohemian lifestyle of the time. Tamara was openly bisexual, her husband later divorcing her in 1931 for a lifestyle he disapproved of. Many of her sexual partners were patrons or models. Tamara painted a number of female nudes portraying desire and seduction. Later Tamara won a Bronze prize at the Exposition Beaux Arts de Paris in 1927 for her painting “Kizette on the Balcony”. Sadly this painting is of her daughter, whom she rarely saw.
During the next decade, the depression of the 1930’s did not effect her as it did so many others. Her life was busy with painting and socializing. She did many commissions for celebrities and royalty, for example she painted Queen Elizabeth of Greece. Though the 1930’s and into the 1940’s her art career was prosperous and prolific. Woman Bathing -1929, The Green Turban - 1930, The Sleeper - 1932 and The Refugees - 1937, these are just a few.
In 1934 Tamara marries again to Baron Knuffner. She was happy to have the title of Baroness. Being affluent was important to Tamara. With World War II underway in 1939, she convinced her husband to sell off properties, move their money to a Swiss bank and relocate to the United States. After arriving in Los Angles, she soon became the go to celebrity portrait artist. With the Nazi occupation in France getting worse, Tamara rescued her daughter Kizette from Paris in 1940. Kizette went on to marry and move to Texas. In 1943 Tamara and the Baron moved to New York. By the end of the war her style of painting was no longer in vogue.
Painting movements were changing to post war modernism and abstract expressionism. Though Tamara tried these new art styles she was unsuccessful in selling and exhibiting her work.
After the Baron passed away in 1961, Tamara had her last show the next year in Paris. It was not well received. At this point Tamara sold off most of her belongings and made three around the world trips, finally settling in Texas with Kizette and her family. Their relationship was difficult and Tamara moved to Cuernavaca, Mexico where she remained until her death in 1980, at 82. Her daughter Kizette was by Tamara’s side at the end. Tamara asked that her ashes be spread on the top of Popcatepetl Volcano in Mexico.
In 1972 there was a major retrospective of Tamara de Lempicka artwork in Luxembourg,
consisting of 25 years of her work, and this was very successful.
When I decided to write about Tamara de Lempicka I did not expect to find her as interesting as she was. Living through wars, having a privileged life and loosing that financial security, her own sexual revolution, and an ever changing world.
I love her work and find it very compelling. Tamara de Lempicka was one of a kind artist.
I found this quote from her and I think it’s a great way to end my story.
“Among a hundred canvases mine were always recognizable. My goal was to never copy. Creat a new style and rediscover my models”
Art Deco, The Golden Age of Graphic Art and Illustration, published 2008
Art History School - Youtube