When I think of the Art Deco era, images of elegant costumes and automobiles from the final season of Downton Abbey come to mind.
I’m reminded of William Van Alen’s Chrysler Building and Josef Lorenzl’s bronze sculptures.
However, when I tried to think of the names of the fine artists or painters from the Deco Era, I drew a blank. As an art teacher, that concerned me.
To remedy this lack of knowledge, I tasked my assistant, Jessica Lee Sanders with researching what she could find. The painter whose name continually popped up on Art Deco art searches was Tamara de Lempicka. When seeing images of her remarkable artwork, I had to learn more. What sealed the deal was learning she was of Polish descent and a refugee from the Bolsheviks, like my family!
As luck would have it, at this year’s Los Angeles Fine Art Show, the very painting by Tamara de Lempicka that first caught my attention from Jessica’s research, was staring back at me at the M.S. Rau Antiques booth!
Thankfully, Bill Rau graciously gave me his card and offered to have his staff reach out to me to answer my questions about the artist. I was ecstatic.
That night, I was thrilled to receive an email from Rebekah Morrison, Sales Assistant at M.S. Rau Antiques, containing a pdf of the Lempicka painting, brief bio and certificate of authenticity. They had the real deal!
Rebekah forwarded my request for a more detailed bio to their researcher and writer, Amanda Wallich. Although their confidentiality agreement with their buyers and sellers would not permit Amanda to disclose how the Autoportrait II came to be in their care, she was able to provide a more in depth view into the life of the legendary Art Deco artist. Brew yourself a cup of coffee or tea or pour a glass of wine or favorite aperitif, sit back and enjoy the story.
The roaring 20s of Paris created a cosmopolitan high life of fantasy and fashion. To have your portrait painted by Tamara de Lempicka certified your celebrity among the fashionable. Her daughter, Kizette de Lempica-Foxhall wrote in her biography of Tamara De Lempica, Passion By Design, “She painted them all, the rich, the successful, the renowned — the best.” That takes chutzpah to pull it off, but for it to last, talent must be rooted in a good education.
As an art teacher, I was curious to learn where Lempicka had studied and what influenced her unique style. I was pleased to learn that in 1911, she was exposed to the art of Italian Renaissance masters while spending the winter with her grandmother in Italy and the French Riviera. In the 1920s, she studied the Florentine masters in the Uffizi, Botticelli and Pomtormo in particular. Her palette and tones reflect that influence.
Her cubist expressionist style developed from instruction at the Académie de la Grand Chaumière under the instruction of Nabi painter, Maurice Denis, as well as the Cubist Andreé Lhote. This was the first I’d heard the term “Nabi”. The Nabi group were late 19th-century French painters, heavily influenced by Gauguin. (Nabi is Hebrew for “prophet”.) They held a mystical view of painting, believing that as artists they were creators of a subjective art that was deeply rooted in the soul of the artist. Cubists united the depicted scene in a picture, and the surface of the canvas by abstracting the scene into geometric forms.
A synthesis of Italian classism, influence of the mystical, romantic and expressive Nabi’s and the fragmented faceted collage of cubism, Tamara de Lempicka’s style was born.
Paris salons and galleries exhibited her work from 1922 until her death in 1980. Her paintings have graced galleries in Bordeaux , Nantes , Warsaw, Pittsburgh, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Rome, London – Edinburgh, Stratford – Canada, Göteborg , Berlin, Milan, Tokyo – Osaka, Zürich, Berlin, Mexico, Montréal and Washington D.C. Phew! It’s a good thing Tamara spoke Polish, Russian, French, German, English and Italian. She was learning Spanish towards the end of her full life.
Tamara lived in Europe and the United States with her second husband, Baron Raoul Kuffner. After his sudden death, de Lempicka gave up on painting as a career, moved to Mexico and unfortunately never exhibited again.. Her daughter Kizette was at her side and spread her ashes as she wished on top of the Volcano, Popocatepetl.
Tamara de Lempicka will be remembered by the way in which she transformed classical artistic technique and form into bold new methods that resonated in the Art Deco era. Many thanks to the gracious staff at M.S. Rau Antiques, the family and friends of Tamara de Lempicka’s who are keeping her legacy alive on her website and to my assistant, Jessica Sanders for spearheading the research. I hope you enjoyed the read as much as I did learning about this remarkable artist.
Art History 101 reviews selected artists from periods of history that continue to influence today’s culture and taste. If you enjoyed this story, please feel free to share on your favorite social media to get the word out about this great artist! Comments welcome. If there is an artist you would like us to feature, please comment below. Thank you for your support.
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