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Why Tamara de Lempicka Was a Groundbreaking Art Icon

 Beyond being a groundbreaking artist and iconoclast, Tamara de Lempicka is also a symbol of women’s liberation who defied the social conventions of her time in order to pursue her passions and contribute to society. 

She was born under the name Tamara Rozalia Gurwick-Gorska in Warsaw in 1898. De Lempicka's family was wealthy, and at the age of 13, she was sent to a boarding school in Lausanne, Switzerland. However, she quickly dropped out in favor of touring Italy with her grandmother. That trip helped fuel her interest in art. After her parents' divorce, she moved to Saint Petersburg where she fell in love with and wed Tadeusz Lempicki, a prominent lawyer. The Russian Revolution caused the couple to flee to Copenhagen, then London, and finally to Paris.

 
Artist profile of Tamara de Lempicka, photograph
Tamara de Lempicka, 1929, Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Paris Beginnings 

De Lempicka made the decision to become a painter in 1919, after the birth of her daughter Maria Krystyna. She began her studies at  Académie de la Grande Chaumière with Maurice Denis, and then with André Lhote. The latter would prove to have a great influence on her style. Artistically, de Lempicka condemned the impressionist painters of her time, believing them to paint with “dirty” colors. She wanted her own style to be “clean” and elegant so she utilized vivid clear colors and polished lines. She formed her own style rather quickly; described by Lhote as “soft cubism” while Dennis referred to it as “synthetic cubism”.​

In 1925 de Lempicka exhibited her work at two major venues - the Salon des Tuileries and the Salon des Femmes Peintres. This event was an important breakthrough for the artist, as her paintings were seen by numerous journalists from international fashion magazines and her work began to gain popularity. 

Related: 34 Paintings Made By Picasso From Different Eras of Art
 

 Artist profile of Tamara de Lempicka,  oil on canvas, autoportrait, 1929

Autoportrait (also known as Tamara in a Green Bugatti), 1929, oil on canvas, Image Source: Flickr

 

 Artist profile of Tamara de Lempicka,  kisette in pink 1926

Kizette in Pink, 1926, oil on canvas, Image Source: Flickr

 Artist profile of Tamara de Lempicka, Portrait of Tedeusz Lempicki, 1928,Portrait of Tadeusz Lempicka, 1928, oil on canvas, Image Source: Flickr

The Roaring 20s

The 1920s are seen as De Lempicka's hay day. It was a period of transition when formal social structures merged with wild fantasies of the future. De Lempicka fit perfectly into that niche - she combined traditionalist portraiture with advertising techniques, photographic lighting, and backgrounds of urban architecture. 
 Artist profile of Tamara de Lempicka, the girls 1930The Girls, 1930, oil on canvas, Image Source: Flickr
 

She began winning awards for her art and received constant commissions from the French elite. She eventually divorced Tadeusz Lempicki and became the mistress of the baron of former Austro-Hungarian Empire Raoul Kuffner. By 1929 she painted one of her best-known works - Autoportrait, also known as Tamara in a Green Bugatti. This depiction of herself placed at the steering wheel of a luxurious Italian race car expresses the liberation some women were experiencing at the time, as well as the consumerist culture that was prevalent in the inter-war period.  

Her career reached its peak in the 1930s when she hosted a successful show at the Carnegie Institute of Pittsburgh. Shortly thereafter, she was commissioned to paint portraits for King Alfonso XIII of Spain and Queen Elizabeth of Greece. In 1934 she married Baron Kuffner and together they fled to the US following the outbreak of World War II.

 
 Artist profile of Tamara de Lempicka,  blue woman with a guitar 1929Blue Woman with a Guitar, 1929, oil on canvas, Image Source: Flickr
 
 Artist profile of Tamara de Lempicka, woman with a garland of flowersWoman with a Garland of Flowers, Image Source: Flickr

World War II and Beyond

 Artist profile of Tamara de Lempicka, duchesse de la salle 1925 Portrait of Duchesse de la Salle, 1925, oil on canvas, Image Source: Flickr
 

De Lempicka and her husband first settled in Beverly Hills and later relocated to New York City.  She hosted numerous shows but did not attain the heights of success she hoped for. She also received far fewer commissions for society portraits as her art deco style became outdated in the period of modernism and abstract expressionism. After the death of her husband, Baron Kuffner in 1963 she officially retired from her life as a professional artist.  She ultimately moved to Cuernavaca, Mexico where she died in her sleep in 1980.

While she experienced numerous periods of turmoil in her life, de Lempicka is one of the most influential and unique artists of the 20th century. Recently, in 2019, her painting Le Tunique Rose (Pink Dress) sold at a Sotheby's auction for a record $12 million. 

 Artist profile of Tamara de Lempicka, young lady with gloves 1929Young Lady with Gloves, 1929, oil on canvas, Image Source: Flickr
 
 Artist profile of Tamara de Lempicka, pink dress 1927Pink Dress, 1927, oils on canvas, Image Source: Flickr
 
 Artist profile of Tamara de Lempicka, the sleeper 1930The Sleeper, 1930, oil on panel, Image Source: Flickr
 
 Artist profile of Tamara de Lempicka, fleshy plant and vial 1941Fleshy Plant and Vial, 1941, oil on canvas, Image Source: Flickr
 
 Artist profile of Tamara de Lempicka, Portrait of Count Vettor Marcello 1933Portrait of Count Vettor Marcello, 1933, oil in canvas, Image Source: Wikipedia Commons
 
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