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The Art Story Homepage Artists Tamara de Lempicka

Tamara de Lempicka

Polish-Russian, French, American Painter

Tamara de Lempicka Photo
Movements and Styles: Art Deco, Queer Art, Proto-Feminist Artists

Born: May 16, 1898 - Warsaw, Poland (then Russia)

Died: March 18, 1980 - Cuernavaca, Mexico

"My goal was never to copy, but to create a new style, bright, luminous colors and to scent out elegance in my models."

Tamara de Lempicka Signature

Summary of Tamara de Lempicka

Tamara de Lempicka was the lone traditional easel painter in the entirety of the Art Deco style. Her sources of inspiration ranged dramatically: she adored Italian Renaissance painting; she was characterized by critics as a sort of modern-day Ingres, although the comparisons were more often not intended to flatter; she absorbed the avant garde art of the era - particularly post-cubist abstraction but of a "softened" style. Perhaps most influential was Lempicka's desire to capitalize on her social connections to create a niche for her portraiture, which most often featured well-to-do, cosmopolitan types. The Art Deco style, lavish in a less visually complex way than its predecessor, Art Nouveau, was probably the ideal vehicle for her trendy style. Most notably, despite its decorative quality, her work provided her with an outlet for unconventional self-expression: truly a product of her era, the libertine golden age between the two world wars, Lempicka, a bisexual, made bold, liberated female sexuality the linchpin of her art.

Key Ideas

Trained by two successful avant garde artists at the height of post-Cubist experimentation, Lempicka's work is nevertheless most often categorized as Art Deco. While her style incorporates the geometric, faceted forms of Cubism, her emphasis on soft modeling achieved a more sensuous effect. The bodies of her sitters are slightly distorted so that they appear as elegant objets d'art as much as human figures. She incorporated the rich, limited palette of Art Deco - particularly, graphic design - to create polished portraits that seemed more decorative than serious high art.
Lempicka's lifestyle, one in which she flouted her sexual freedom, has made her something of a conundrum for feminist art historians. As she frequently depicted her female lovers and other women - often in pairs or groups - as reveling in their sexuality under the gaze of a female painter, it is possible to regard Lempicka as a kind of proto-feminism. Indeed, as a female painter representing the female nude, she subverted the conventional arrangement in which a naked woman is displayed exclusively for the viewing pleasure of the male onlooker. The result is a kind of egalitarian voyeurism. The caveat may be, however, that as a member of the upper class, Lempicka's freedom was more easily attained and forgiven.
The gleaming surfaces of her sensual portraits are tributes to jazz- and flapper-age decadence following the privations of WWI. She was a favorite artist of the rich and socialites of her time, her popularity continues with celebrities such as Madonna, Jack Nicholson, and Barbra Streisand that enjoy her sharp lines and bold statements of a by-gone age.
Tamara de Lempicka Photo

Tamara de Lempicka was born Maria Gorska in Warsaw (then part of Russia). Her father was a Russian-Jewish lawyer and her mother was a Polish socialite. As a child of a well-off family, she went to boarding school in Lausanne, Switzerland. In 1911, she spent the summer with her grandmother in Italy, where she was introduced to the work of the great Italian painters, sparking a love of art that would inform the rest of her life.

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