Tamara de Lempicka


Tamara de Lempicka, influenced by Cezanne and Fernand Leger, was one of the most well- known painters of the Art Deco style and one of the most successful portrait painters in the period between the two World Wars.  Her technique was clean, precise, elegant, and charged with sensuality.  Her smoothness of texture was a main element in her paintings.

Born in Warsaw into an upper-class Polish family, de Lempicka discovered her passion for art in 1911 during a six month tour of Italy with her grandmother when she was 13 years old.  She loved 15th century Italian paintings especially the Italian Mannerists, such as Bronzino and Pontormo. In 1914, she abandoned her studies and moved to St. Petersburg where she married a Russian, Tadeusz Lempicki.  The Russian Revolution caused them to flee Russia for Paris in 1918.  In 1920, she gave birth to a daughter, Kizette.

De Lempicka attended the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere and took painting lessons from Maurice Denis and Andre Lhote.  From Denis she learned the use of warm tonalities, and from Lhote she learned the decompositions of Cubism.  She was still influenced by the Italian Mannerists as well as the French Neoclassicists, like Ingres, and Art Deco artists. In 1922, she took part in the Salon d’Automne.  In 1925, she went to Italy, exhibited her works in Milan, and met Gabriele D’Annunzio.  In 1928, she divorced her husband and became involved with Baron Raoul Kuffner, whom she married in 1933.  In 1939, she moved to the United States where she exhibited with some success.

Known for her romantic entanglements with men, de Lempicka also had strong relationships with women. In the 1920s, she became associated with lesbian and bisexual women in artistic and literary circles, such as Violet Trefusis, Vita Sackville-West, and Colette.  Her bisexuality was reflected in her fully representational paintings of female nudes, one of her favorite subjects – often taken of herself – with geometric patterns of Cubism in the background. She subverted the conventions of the female nude and framed her subjects as empowered beings.  Her boldness to legitimize her own gaze in her paintings of women and herself was groundbreaking for a female artist in the 1920s.

Her daughter Kizette was the focus of many of her paintings portrayed in childhood and throughout her adulthood.  She often referred to her daughter as her sister and had her family call her ‘Cherie’ rather than ‘Mother’.  In 1927, de Lempicka won first prize at an International Exhibition in Bordeaux for “Kizette on the Balcony.”  In 1931, she won a bronze medal for an International Exhibition in Poland for “Kizette’s First Communion.”

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