Tamara de Lempicka

She lived a full, luxurious life and painted like no other the new vision of femininity that was appearing in the 1920s.

Born of a wealthy family in Poland, Tamara de Lempicka (1898-1980) always sought to keep an opulent way of life, but worked to be recognized and celebrated, nevertheless her famous friends, constant parties or – and mainly – bisexual love affairs receive most of the attention when talking about her which is unfortunate – and annoying – considering how successful she was in the early XX century.

Tamara de Lempicka - The Green Turban", 1930
“The Green Turban”, 1930 / Image: WikiArt

Painting Art Deco

Tamara lived in a time when many changes were happening in society, industrialization was progressing rapidly, design starting to get momentous and Art Deco emerged with a highly stylized vision that encompassed architecture, interior, product and graphic design, and responded to the aspiration of modernity. She was the only artist to paint in the style.

To create her famous portraits, Tamara incorporated into Cubism and Art Deco, the art of the Renaissance whose painters she admired and study deeply. She produces a particular atmosphere using deep colours, skyscrapers in the background and fashionable clothes that reflect the influence of photography and cinema on the compositions. She portraited influential people, friends, lovers and her daughter Kizette. 

In 1927 the painter won the first prize at Exposition Internationale des Beaux-Arts in Bordeaux, France, for her portrait “Kizette on the Balcony”. She had her work exposed at major exhibitions in France, Italy and Poland, winning a medal for another portrait of Kizette.

1.”Kizette On The Balcony”, 1927, 2. “Portrait of Marjorie Ferry”, 1932, 3.”Portrait of Mrs Boucard”, 1931 / Images: All WikiArt

Illustrating women

The influence of classic painting can be seen also in the many nudes Tamara painted. The images carry luscious expressions and voluptuous bodies, but display certain defiance. It seems to me that her models represent a bold sensuality, they are not there to be desired as objects, they are protagonists of their sexuality.

Working also as an illustrator for fashion magazines like Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, it was for the German Die Dame, she produced her famous and fascinating “Autoportrait (Tamara in a Green Bugatti)”. She looks directly at us, red lips, leather gloves, flowing scarf, hands on the wheel, you don’t know where she’s going, but she’s determined and has a gaze of charming indifference.

Tamara de Lempicka - My Portrait (Self-Portrait in the Green Bugatti), 1929
“My Portrait (Self-Portrait in the Green Bugatti)”, 1929 / Image: WikiArt

Tamara never stopped painting, trying during the 50s more abstract styles, but with no success. Having lived in many places throughout her life, she died in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

For me, it’s this ability to bring classic subjects – portrait, nudes – to a modern, desirable and powerful aesthetic, to depict women in a way that embodies independence and ambition that makes Tamara’s work so intriguing and relevant. 

To know more:

delempicka.org: Official website maintained by her granddaughter Victoria. It holds a large archive of artworks.

theartstory.org: Bio, analysis of paintings, correlated artists and more.

Let me know your thoughts!

Have a great week!

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