Tamara de Lempicka (1898-1980)

Biography

Tamara de Lempicka (1898-1980) was a Polish Art Deco painter. Born into a wealthy and prominent family, her father was a Polish lawyer, and her mother a Polish socialite. In 1912 her parents divorced and Lempicka went to live with her wealthy Aunt Stefa in St. Petersburg, Russia. In 1916 she married Tadeusz Łempicki in St. Petersburg-a well-known ladies' man who was tempted by her significant dowry.

In 1917, during the Russian Revolution, following Tadeusz's arrest by the Bolsheviks, the couple travelled Paris, to where Lempicka's family had also escaped, along with numerous upper-class Russian refugees.

Lempicka's distinctive and bold artistic style developed quickly and epitomized the cool yet sensual side of the Art Deco movement. Her technique was novel, clean, precise, and elegant. She was soon the most fashionable portrait painter of her generation among the haute bourgeoisie and aristocracy, painting duchesses, grand dukes and socialites. Through her network of friends, she was able to display her paintings in the most elite salons of the era. In 1925, she painted her iconic work Auto-Portrait (Tamara in the Green Bugatti) for the cover of the German fashion magazine Die Dame. During the Roaring 20s Paris, Lempicka knew Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, and André Gide. Famous for her libido, she was bisexual, and her affairs with both men and women were carried out in ways that were scandalous at the time. She often used formal and narrative elements in her portraits and nude studies to produce overpowering effects of desire and seduction.

In the early 1930s she was painting King Alfonso XIII of Spain and Queen Elizabeth of Greece. Museums began to collect her works. In 1933 she traveled to Chicago where she worked with Georgia O'Keeffe, Santiago Martínez Delgado and Willem de Kooning. In 1933, now divorced, she married her longtime patron the Baron Raoul Kuffner, cementing her social position. In the winter of 1939, Tamara and the Baron started an "extended vacation" in the United States, settling in Beverly Hills, California. She became 'the baroness with a brush' and a favorite artist of Hollywood stars. In 1943, the couple relocated to New York City, where her range of subject matter expanded to include still lifes, and even some abstracts.

After Baron Kuffner's death from a heart attack in 1962, she sold moved to Houston, Texas to be with her family. Tamara died in her sleep on March 18, 1980.

Madonna is a huge fan and collector of her work. She featured Lempicka's artwork in her music videos for "Open Your Heart" (1987), "Express Yourself" (1989), and "Vogue" (1990).