Painter Tamara de Lempicka
It was Tamara de Lempicka's boldly coloured, highly stylized and often very erotic art that attracted my attention when I was a teenager and ultimately sparked my love affair with Art Deco.
Her life was as deliciously decadent as her paintings. She was born in Poland on May 16, 1898, married and moved to Russia at 16 and escaped the turmoil of the Russian Revolution at 20 with her Russian husband, Thadeus Lempicki.
They had one daughter, Kizette, who was frequently featured in her mother's infamous paintings. They divorced shortly after de Lempicka learned of her husband's sordid affairs with a multitude of women. The betrayal left a deep wound in her heart and she suffered from depression throughout her life because of it.
Of course, as is the case in many relationships, there are two sides to every story. Some of de Lempicka's closest friends have reported that in fact, Tadeusz left Tamara because of her multitude of affairs with other women.
It is quite well known that Tamara was far from the stereotypical 'family' woman and despised the confines of marriage. She reportedly did not enjoy motherhood either and "was even known to tell people that her daughter was her sister so that they didn't think she was so old." (Thank you to A.W., one of my readers, for that little tidbit.)
She attended the Academie Ransom from 1925 to 1939, studying under the famous modernist French painter, Maurice Denis. Her work was first exhibited in Paris at the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes. Less than two years later she won the first prize at the Exposition International des Beaux-Arts in Bordeaux.
This catapulted her to celebrity status and all of Europe's high society coveted a portrait painted by the beautiful and talented Tamara. She led a fast and indulgent lifestyle and was rumoured to have slept with many of her male and female 'subjects'.
She married Baron Kuffner, one of her very rich patrons, in 1933 and together they escaped Paris to Hollywood in 1939, just before the outbreak of WWII. They relocated to New York in 1943, where she began to experiment in abstract art and still life. A harsh and negative review of one of her exhibits, and the death of her husband in 1962, led her to abandon painting all together.
There was some renewed interest in her paintings in the mid 1970s when Art Deco came back into fashion, however de Lempicka had become increasingly depressed and had retreated from public life at this point. She moved to Mexico in 1978 and died in 1980. Her ashes were scattered over the Popocatepetl volcano by Count Giovanni Agusta.
Tamara de Lempicka's paintings are more popular than ever today and she is considered to be one of the most famous and most admired of all the Art Deco artists.
Tamara de Lempicka: A Life of Deco and Decadence
By Laura P. Claridge
Published by Clarkson Potter, 1999