Friday, March 20, 2015

The Queen of Art Deco

“There are no miracles; there is only what you make.”
Tamara de Lempicka

Described by the New York Times as the ‘steely-eyed goddess of the machine age’, Tamara de Lempicka took on the male dominated art world of Paris in the 1920’s and became one of its brightest stars.

Through an astute mixing of the renaissance art she had seen on trips to Italy in her youth with the up and coming Cubist and Fauvist styles Lempicka painted portraits of the glamorous Parisians of the day along with nudes based on classical themes. As she has said “I was the first woman to paint cleanly, and that was the basis of my success. From a hundred pictures, mine will always stand out. And so the galleries began to hang my work in their best rooms, always in the middle, because my painting was attractive. It was precise. It was 'finished.'

Painting in the then popular Art Deco style and with a life style that matched and at times surpassed that of her clients, Lempicka became as much of a celebrity as they were. As her daughter Kizette de Lempica-Foxhall wrote in her biography of her mother “She painted them all, the rich, the successful, the renowned -- the best. And with many she also slept. The work brought her critical acclaim, social celebrity and considerable wealth.”

Escaping the Russian revolution with her husband, who she rescued from the clutches of the Bolsheviks using her wit and charm, the Lempicka’s arrived penniless in Paris in 1917. He was unable to find work, so she built upon her childhood hobby of painting studying at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere. Lempicka started showing her work in Paris in 1923 and had her first solo exhibition in Italy in 1925.

Lempicka met her second husband, Baron Raoul Kuffner, at the end of the 1920’s when he commissioned her to paint his mistress’ portrait, which she did and replaced her as well. Four years later they married and then moved to American in 1939 to escape the looming Second World War.

The age of Art Deco was starting to wane and along with it Lempicka’s popularity. In the States she became something of a curiosity becoming known as the ‘Baroness with a brush.’ The rise of Abstract Expressionism after WWII saw both Art Deco and Lempicka reduced to an afterthought and although Lempicka tried her hand at the new style it was with little success.

The rediscovery of Art Deco in the 1970’s saw a return of interest in her work and an ongoing interest mostly by connoisseurs has continued but with nowhere near the luminosity of Lempicka’s decade between the wars.

A self titled retrospective of Lempicka’s work is currently on show at Turin’s Chiablese Palace until the 30th of August.

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