Tamara de Lempicka
Tamara de Lempicka was born in 1898 in Warsaw, which was then part of the Russian Empire. Born into a wealthy family, Maria Gorska as she was named by her parents, was educated at a boarding school in Switzerland.
In the summer of 1911, she travelled to Italy with her grandmother and she was there introduced to the masterful works of the great Italian painters of the Renaissance and this sparked in her an appreciation and love for art that would stay with her throughout her life.
In 1917, after just a year of marriage, she was forced to brave the dangers and the fallout of the Russian Revolution, in order to save her husband who had been arrested and imprisoned by the Bolsheviks.
Using her beauty, charm and social connections, she managed to secure her husband’s release and the couple fled the country, eventually settling in Paris.
In Paris, she reinvented herself as Tamara de Lempicka and diligently studied art at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, her mentors being the Nabis painter Maurice Denis and the Cubist artist André Lhote.
The influences of Lempicka’s mentors are evident in her signature style; Denis’ encouragement for her to draw inspiration from the graphic arts and Lhote’s uniquely soft style of Cubism had a huge impact on her work.
It didn’t take long for the ambitious Lempicka to establish herself in society amongst the sophisticated elite of roaring 20s Paris, quickly becoming integrated socially and artistically.
Lempicka started out showing her work in some of the smaller Parisian galleries until 1925 when she had her first solo exhibition in Milan.
The Milan exhibition was sponsored by Count Emmanuele Castelbarco, a member of Italian high society and a prominent face in the art community. In preparation for the solo exhibition, Lempicka staggeringly painted 28 new artworks in just six months.
It didn’t take long for Lempicka to become a renowned portrait painter with a distinctive Art Deco style. She spent the years between the wars painting portraits of many famous and prominent people including writers, artists, scientists, and even members of Eastern Europe’s exiled nobility.
As famous as she was for her art, Lempicka was also well known for her libido. She was bisexual and had many scandalous affairs with both men and women.
She left Paris under the looming shadow and threat of the Second World War and went to Hollywood, where she was to become the “Favourite Artist of the Hollywood Stars”.
“Among a hundred canvases, mine were always recognisable. The galleries tended to show my pictures in the best rooms because they attracted people... I was searching for a craft that no longer existed... I was in search of technique... My goal was never to copy, but to create a new style, bright, luminous colours and to scent out the elegance in my models.”
Lempicka was shrewd, determined and ambitious and these attributes used in combination with her polished social skills and sexual appeal saw her ascend swiftly into the upper echelons of Parisian society.
Lempicka very much saw herself as one of the elite, famous and successful. Her choices of successful spouses and the celebrity portraits she painted showed her role in the glamour of the age and even after the roaring 20s.
In fact, even to this day she is well known in art collector circles and the distinctive artworks of ‘The Baroness with a brush’ hold a firm place in the art market.