TAMARA DE LEMPICKA
Tamara de Lempicka was born Maria Gorski in Moscow at the end of the 19th century. Her family was of Polish and Russian/Jewish background. After her mother and father divorced, her wealthy grandmother spoiled her with clothes and travel. Tamara vacationed in St. Petersburg with her Aunt Stephanie, who was married to a banker. All this high living gave the young girl an idea of how she wanted to live and what her future should be.
Soon after Russia and Germany declared war in 1914, when she was 15, she met Tadeusz Lempiki, a lawyer, and a handsome bachelor, in Warsaw. Two years later they were married in fashionable St. Petersburg. Her banker uncle provided the dowry, and Lempicki, who had no money of his own, was delighted to marry the beautiful Tamara. They soon had a daughter together, Kizette.
A year later, Tadeusz was arrested by the Bolsheviks, and Tamara braved the Russian Revolution to free him, using her good looks (and possibly sexual favors) to charm the necessary officials. She escaped the Bolshevik Revolution with the help of a Swedish consul who forged papers for her and later got her husband out of the country.
Reunited with her family in Paris, she became an artist almost by chance, although she had always been an admirer of art during her early travels. While most of the aristocratic émigrés made a living by modeling, she realized her body was too curvaceous, so she took art lessons instead. Now known as Tamara de Lempicka, the refugee studied art and worked day and night. She was determined to earn her living from her work. Tamara studied briefly at the Académie Ranson, then at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, where she met André Lhote, which had a great influence on her work. She became a well-known portrait painter with a distinctive Art Deco manner. Quintessentially French, Deco was the part of an exotic, sexy, and glamorous Paris that epitomized Tamara's living and painting style.
Between the wars, she painted portraits of writers, entertainers, artists, scientists, industrialists, and many of Eastern Europe's exiled nobility. The work brought her critical acclaim, social celebrity and considerable wealth. Her work was well-received in the 1925 Art Déco exhibition in Paris and in solo exhibitions.
While she sold paintings, she was also socializing frenetically. Tadeusz, a cuckolded husband, turned into a sullen wife-beater and eventually left her in 1927. He shortly thereafter married a woman in Poland. There is a striking portrait of him, minus his wedding ring, turning his back on the city.
Baron Raoul Kuffner de Dioszegh was one of her early admirers, and his patronage between the years of 1929 and 1933 helped make her rich. Their marriage seems to have been happier than her first. He respected her as an artist and bankrolled her extravagant lifestyle. They both traveled and had their own sexual partners. He maintained his own lifestyle throughout the marriage; hunting, sailing and attending to his land holdings. She was able to maintain a lifestyle involving glamour, partying and painting.
Before the Second World War, she and the Baron moved to Hollywood, a congenially decadent scene. She and the Baron moved into American film director King Vidor's former house in Beverly Hills. Though Lempicka eventually left California to live on the East Coast, her work frequently appealed to celebrities. In the Forties she painted still lives, inspired by Dutch and Flemish art, but little interest was evinced in them. She had solo retrospective exhibitions at respectable galleries, but seemed to move from painting to a leisured life.
Baron and Tamara moved to New York City in 1943, to a stunning apartment at 322 East 57th Street, in whose two-story north light studio she continued painting in the old style for another year or two. The apartment cost a quarter of a million dollars in 1942 and was filled with gilt furniture and gold drapes, many antiques rescued from the Baron’s Hungarian estate. She also had posh houses in Havana, Palm Springs and Paris. When the war was over, she reopened her famous Paris studio in the rue Mechain, and redecorated in rococo style. Friends then asked her to decorate apartments in New York City with her individual touch.
The advent of Abstract Expressionism and her advancing age halted her career in the 1950's and 1960's. Somewhat forgotten, her work ignored, she continued to paint, storing her canvases, new and old, in an attic and a warehouse. After the Baron's death in 1962, she moved to Houston to be near her daughter Kizette. She began painting with a palette knife, much in vogue at the time. The Iolas Gallery in New York exhibited her newest and latest paintings in 1962, but the critics were indifferent, there were not many buyers, and she swore to herself that she would never exhibit again. Lempicka's style continued to change and develop throughout the following decades. But her glossy still-lives and her thick palette knife paintings were less admired than the early work. As Lempicka aged, she had to come to terms with both loss of looks and loss of artistic reputation.
In 1966, the Musée des Arts Decoratifs mounted a commemorative exhibition in Paris called Les Annees '25. Its success created the first serious interest in Art Deco. This inspired a young man named Alain Blondel to open the Galerie du Luxembourg and launch a major retrospective of Tamara de Lempicka. It was a revelation in the art world and was to have been followed by an exhibition at the Knoedler Gallery in New York City but Tamara, ever imperious, made too many demands on how the exhibit was to be mounted, and the curator at Knoedler walked away. Gradually, as Art Deco and figurative painting came into favor again, she was rediscovered by the art world.
In 1978 she moved to Mexico permanently, buying a beautiful house in Cuernavaca called Tres Bambus, built by a Japanese architect in a chic neighborhood. She despaired of growing old and in her last years sought the company of young people. She mourned at the loss of her beauty and was cantankerous to the end. Tamara de Lempicka died in her sleep on March 18, 1980. Her wish to be cremated, and have her ashes spread on the top of the volcano Mount Popocatépetl, was carried out.
2004 Tamara de Lempicka: Art Deco Icon. (Catalogue) Royal Academy of Arts, London, England: May 15 - August 13; Kunstforum, Vienna, Austria: September 15 - January 2, 2005. Solo.
1997 Tamara de Lempicka. Musée des Beaux-Arts d’Hiroshima, Tokyo-Hiroshima, Japan. Solo.
1996 Da Balla a de Lempicka. Galleria Campo dei Fiori, Rome, Italy. Solo.
Tamara de Lempicka. Barry Friedman Ltd., New York. Solo.
1994 Tamara de Lempicka: Symbole d’élégance et de Transgression. Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal, Montréal, Canada. Solo.
Tamara de Lempicka: tra eleganza e transgressione. Accademia di Francia, Villa Medici, Rome, Italy. Solo.
1992 Polish Women Artists and Avant-Garde: Voices of Freedom. The National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC.
1991 Les Années 20- L’âge des Métropoles. Musée des Beaux-Arts des Montréal, Montréal, Canada.
1989 Tamara de Lempicka. Museo Nacional de Mexico, Mexico. Solo.
1984 Tamara. Hollywood American Legion Post, Los Angeles, CA. Solo.
1981 Art Deco, le Style Moderne. Walter Haas, Zurich, Switzerland.
Tamara de Lempicka. Seibu, Tokyo-Osaka, Japan. Solo.
1978 Neue Sachlichkeit and German Realism of the 20s. Hayward Gallery, London, Great Britain.
1976 Paris 1925. Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, France.
1975 Art Deco 1925-1933. The Gallery Stratford, Stratford, Canada.
1972 Tamara de Lempicka de 1925 à 1935. Galerie du Luxembourg, Paris, France. Solo.
1962 T. de Lempicka, Recent and Early Work: 1930-1960. Iolas Gallery, New York.
1961 T. de Lempicka, Recent and Early Work: 1930-1960. Galerie Ror-Volmar, Paris, France. Solo.
1957 Tamara de Lempicka. Galerie Sagittarius, Milan, Italy. Organized by Princess Stefanella Barberini Colonna di Sciarra, with Monograph by Gabriele Mandel. Solo.
1955 Helene Gallet et Tamara de Lempicka. Galerie André Weill, Paris, France. Solo.
1942 Tamara de Lampicka (Baroness Kuffner). Milwaukee Art Center, WI. Solo.
1941 Tamara de Lempicka. Julien Levy Galleries, Los Angeles, CA. Solo.
Tamara de Lampicka (Baroness Kuffner). Courvoisier Gallery, San Francisco, CA. Solo.
Tamara de Lampicka (Baroness Kuffner). Julien Levy Gallery, NY. Solo.
1939 Tamara de Lampicka, Paintings and Portraits. Paul Reinhardt Galleries, NY. Solo.
1937 Les Femmes Artistes d’Europe. Musée du Jeu de Parme, Paris, France.
1932 Atelier de la rue Méchain, Paris, France. Solo.
1931 Tamara de Lempicka. Galerie Colette Weil, Paris, France. Solo.
1930 Tamara de Lempicka. Galerie Colette Weil, Paris, France. Solo.
1929 Painters of Nudes. Galerie Colette Weil, Paris, France.
Galerie Zacheta, Warsaw, Poland.
Tamara de Lempicka. Galerie Zak, Paris, France. Solo.
1928 Salon. Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes, Nantes, France.
1926 Tamara de Lempicka. Galerie Colette Weil, Paris, France. Solo.
1925 Tamara de Lempitzka. Bottega di Poesia, Milan, Italy. Solo.