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Home / Great Artists / L / Tamara de Lempicka (inspired by) / Biography
Biography Tamara de Lempicka (inspired by)

Tamara de Lempicka (inspired by) Biography


1898-1980


Polish (Active in America) Art Deco Painter


Tamara de Lempicka (May 16, 1898, Warsaw, Poland - March 18, 1980 Cuernavaca, Mexico) , noted Art Deco painter, was born Maria Gorska in a wealthy family in Warsaw, Poland.

Early life
She was born into a wealthy and prominent family, her father was a lawyer, her mother, the former Malvina Decler, a socialite. She attended boarding school in Lausanne, Switzerland, and spent the winter of 1911 with her grandmother in Italy and the French Riviera. In 1912 her parents divorced, when her mother remarried, she determined to break away to a life of her own. In 1916 she married a lawyer named Tadeusz Lempicki in St. Petersburg, Russia.
In 1917, during the Russian Revolution, Tadeusz was arrested by the Bolsheviks. Although only nineteen years old, his wife pleaded for, and finally secured his release.

Paris and Painting
The Lempickis then fled to Paris, France where Maria named herself Tamara de Lempicka. In the period immediately after World War I, she gave birth to her daughter Kizette, and began to study art, encouraged by family members. In Montparnasse she attended the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere, and studied under Maurice Denis and Andre Lhote. She had a natural talent and progressed with amazing rapidity; by 1923 she was showing her work at major salons. She developing a distinctive and bold style (sometimes referred to as "soft cubism", like Denis' "synthetic cubism"), which epitomizes the cool modernism of Art Deco.
For her first major show, in Milan in 1925, she painted 28 new works in six months. She was soon the most fashionable portrait painter of her generation, painting duchesses and grand dukes and socialites. A portrait might take three weeks of work, allowing for the nuisance of dealing with a cranky sitter; by 1927-8 de Lempicka could charge 50,000 francs per portrait (a sum equal to about $2,000 then-perhaps ten times as much today).
She acquired a patron, the Baron Raoul Kuffner; he bought dozens of her paintings, and commissioned her to paint his mistress. De Lempicka finished the portrait, then took the mistress' place in the Baron's life. She travelled to the United States for the first time in 1929, to paint a commissioned portrait and to arrange a show of her work at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh.

Social Life
During the Roaring '20s Paris, Tamara de Lempicka was part of the bohemian life: she knew Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau and Andre Gide. Famous for her beauty, she was bisexual, and her affairs with both men and women were carried out in ways that were scandalous at the time. She often used formal and narrative elements in her portraits and nude studies to produce overpowering effects of desire and seduction. In the 1920s she became closely associated with lesbian and bisexual women in writing and artistic circles, such as Violet Trefusis, Vita Sackville-West, and Colette. She also became involved with Suzy Solidor, a night club singer at Boite de Nuit, whom she later painted. Her husband eventually tired of their arrangement; he abandoned her in 1927, and they were divorced in 1928.
Obsessed with her work and her social life, de Lempicka neglected more than her husband; she rarely saw her daughter. When Kizette was not away at boarding school (France or England), the girl was often with her grandmother Malvina. When de Lempicka informed her mother and daughter that she would not be returning from America for Christmas in 1929, Malvina was so angry that she burned de Lempicka's enormous collection of designer hats; Kizette watched them burn, one by one.
Kizette was neglected, but also immortalized. De Lempicka painted her only child repeatedly, leaving a striking portait series: Kizette in Pink, 1926; Kizette on the Balcony, 1927; Kizette Sleeping, 1934; Portrait of Baroness Kizette, 1954-5, etc. In other paintings, the women depicted tend to resemble Kizette.
De Lempicka continued both her heavy workload and her frenetic social life through the next decade. The Great Depression had little effect on her; in the early 1930s she was painting King Alfonso XIII of Spain and Queen Elizabeth of Greece. Her social position was cemented when she married her lover, Baron Kuffner, in 1933 (his wife had died the year before). The Baron took her out of bohemia and secured her place in high society; she repaid him by convincing him to sell many of his estates in Eastern Europe and move his money to Switzerland. She saw the coming of World War II from a long way off, much sooner than most of her contemporaries. She did make a few concessions to the changing times as the decade passed; her art featured a few refugees and common people, and even a Christian saint or two, as well as the usual aristocrats and cold nudes.

Later Life
In the summer of 1939 she and the Baron started an "extended vacation" in the United States. She immediately arranged for a show of her work in New York, though the Baron and Baroness chose to settle in Beverly Hills, California. She cultivated a Garboesque look, and made a hit in Hollywood. She did war relief work, like many others at the time; and she managed to get Kizette out of Nazi-occupied Paris, via Lisbon, in 1941. In 1943 she and the Baron relocated to New York City; she continued to paint in her trademark style-though she expanded her subject matter, painting still lifes, and even some abstracts. Yet eventually she adopted a new style, using palette knife instead of brushes. Her new work was not well-received when she showed it in 1962; she determined never to show her work again, and retired from active life as a professional artist.
Insofar as she still painted at all, she sometimes reworked earlier pieces in her new style. The crisp and direct Amethyste (1946), for example, became the pink and fuzzy Girl with Guitar (1963).
After Baron Kuffner's death from a heart attack in 1962, Tamara moved to Houston, Texas to be with Kizette and her family. (Kizette had married a man named Harold Foxhall, who was then chief geologist for the Dow Chemical Company; they had two daughters.) There she settled into her difficult and disagreeable later years. In 1978 she moved to Cuernavaca, Mexico. She died in her sleep on March 19, 1980, with the recently-widowed Kizette at her side. Her ashes were scattered over the volcano Popocatepetl by Count Giovanni Agusta.
De Lempicka lived long enough, however, for the wheel of fashion to turn a full circle: before she died a new generation discovered her art and greeted it with enthusiasm. A 1973 retrospective drew positive responses. At the time of her death, her early Art Deco paintings were being shown and purchased once again. A stage play on her life ran for two years in Los Angeles (1984-6). Jack Nicholson collects her work. In 2005, actress and artist Kara Wilson performed Deco Diva, a one-woman stage play based on de Lempicka's life. Pop singer Madonna is also a huge fan and collects her work. She has lent out her paintings to events and museums. Madonna has also immortalised Lempicka in her music videos for Express Yourself and Vogue.