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1 Painting in Collection

Tamara de Lempicka


Born 1898 Warsaw, Poland
Died 1980 Cuernavaca, Mexico

Fruits in a Bowl IV, 1976
oil on canvas
15 x 20”

Tamara de Lempicka is recognized internationally for her sleek, Art Deco style portraits. Her structured, colorful canvases largely focused on provocatively posed women.

Born Maria Gorska into a wealthy family in Warsaw, she was introduced to art by her grandmother who took her on a tour of Italy in 1911 and introduced her to the Renaissance masters. In 1912 Lempicka was sent to school in Lausanne, Switzerland.

After her grandmother’s death, Lempicka moved to her aunt’s elegant home in St. Petersburg. Exposed to high society and a lavish lifestyle as a young woman, Lempicka was eager to emulate that life as an adult, cultivating a sensual and flamboyant style. Legend has it that she met Tadeusz Lempicki at a party where she was dressed as a goose keeper accompanied by a pair of live geese. The two married in 1916 when Lempicka was only 17.

In 1918 the couple fled the Bolshevik revolution and emigrated to Paris. (Lempicki had been arrested by the Bolseviks in 1916 and Tamara used her connections and allure to free him.) Shortly thereafter their daughter, Kizette was born. In France the couple lived off of her family’s wealth as Lempicki was either unable or unwilling to find work. She amended her name to Tamara de Lempicka and took painting lessons at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière with André L’Hote and at the Académie Ranson with Maurice Denis.

During the 1920s Art Deco was a predominant style in Paris influencing everything from apparel to home furnishing to high art. It took some of its inspiration from Cubism, Futurism and the Bauhaus, but it was a classical style that embraced symmetry and bright, bold colors. Lempicka was attracted to the curves and sensuality of Deco and adopted a clean, precise style of painting the figure.

In 1922 Lempicka exhibited at the Salon d’ Automne. By 1925 she became broadly known when she was included in the first Art Deco exhibition in Paris. She had an exhibition at the Bottega de Poesia in Milan that same year. In 1929 Lempicka’s work was exhibited at Galerie Colette Weill, Paris; Paul Reinhardt Gallery, New York, and included in the Carnegie International exhibition, Pittsburgh. By the late 1920s Lempicka was in high demand as a portrait painter. In 1927 she won first prize at the Exposition Internationale de Beaux Arts in Bordeaux, France. In 1929 she painted one of her most recognizable works Auto-Portrait (Tamara in the Green Bugatti) for the cover of Die Dame, a German fashion magazine. This image of Lempicka as a helmeted, gloved, cool beauty quickly became an Art Deco icon as well as a symbol of the new modern independent woman.

Lempicka embraced her identity as a sensual and free woman and her life in Paris included affairs with men and women. Her husband was unhappy with his wife’s sexual meanderings and eventually the couple divorced.

In 1928 arts patron Baron Raoul Kuffner commissioned Lempicka to do a portrait of his mistress. By 1933 the mistress had been cast aside and Lempicka and the Baron were married. The couple moved to U.S. in 1939, settling in Beverly Hills, CA where she maintained a full schedule painting portraits of Hollywood society. During the early 1940s Lempicka was actively exhibiting in both Los Angeles and New York. In 1943 the couple moved to New York.

Lempicka’s first retrospective, T. de Lempicka, Recent and early work 1930-1960, was held at Galerie Ror-Volmar in Paris in 1961. But by 1960 Lempicka had moved away from her signature figuration and began to work in abstraction, building up painted surfaces with a spatula. After Kuffner died in 1962 she moved to Houston and, when her new art received poor reviews, she vowed to no longer exhibit.

Fruits in a Bowl IV , Lempicka’s painting in the Wolfson Collection, was done toward the end of the artist’s life when she began to incorporate her painterly abstraction into more representational still lifes. The purple palette is in keeping with her use of bold colors throughout her career. Her catalog raisonné reveals that she did a number of these still lifes in various color combinations. Despite the realistic representation of the fruit, the still life floats on the canvas. It is not situated in real space but pushed to the foreground with bold outlines.

In 1966, an exhibition devoted completely to the Art Deco movement was held in the Musée des Arts Decoratifs in Paris, reigniting interest in Lempicka's work. In 1972, the Galerie du Luxembourg presented a major retrospective of her work, restoring interest both in Lempicka and her work.
In 1978 she moved to Cuernavaca, Mexico where she died in 1980.

Recently American Pop star Madonna became enamored with Lempicka’s biography and her art, including her paintings in music videos. Madonna’s interest cast new attention on the artist and in the last decade Lempicka’s work has been the subject of exhibitions throughout the world. Despite the decorative quality of her work, Lempicka’s unabashed and liberated sexuality and her ambition for herself and her art are courageous and admirable attributes that were nurtured by a sense of privation after World War I. Her sensual paintings continue to stylistically represent Art Deco but also serve as an link between the world of fashion, design and high art during the Jazz age.

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