When most people think about the 1920s, they think of great music, prohibition, famous gangsters, and Art Deco, just to name a few. There were many artists
painting in the Art Deco style in the 1920s, one of the more famous artists was
Tamara de Lempicka.
In the book titled "Tamara de Lempicka : A Life of Deco and Decadence"
Author Laura Claridge says this about Tamara:
"Nothing ever really cramped her style or her dedication to art. She died
in 1980, a venerable survivor still looking forward rather than back. Blending
art history with psychological analysis."
She was born with the name Maria Gorska in 1898, in Poland to very wealthy parents.
When Tamara's parents divorced each other, her very wealthy grandmother took her
in and spoiled her by giving her lavish clothing, and paying for her extensive travels.
In 1912, at the age of 14, Tamara was living in Luasanne, Switzerland, where
she was attending art school. Tamara spent her vacations at her Aunt Stephanie's
mansion in St. Petersburg. Her mansion had been decorated by the famous French
decorating firm Maison Jansen. This was a very exclusive firm that only the
very wealthy could afford and Tamara's Aunt Stephanie was married to a millionaire
banker, so money was no object.
In 1917, Tamara married Tadeusz de Lempicki and they soon had to flee from Russia
to escape the Revolution of 1917. In 1918, Tamara and her husband arrived
in Paris where she studied art at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, located in
Montparnasse for a brief time before she studied under Maurice Denis at the Académie
Ranson and also studied under Andre Lhote. Tamara took much of her own style
from Andre Lhote, whose theories of composition and delicate brushstrokes inspired
It is in Paris that Tamara's art career began to flourish and she became a mother
when her daughter Kizette de Lempicka was born. Tamara was a well known portrait
painter who had a distinct Art Deco manner in many of her paintings. Her paintings
were described by many of her contemporaries as exotic, glamorous and sexy.
She received many commissions to create portraits of people such as:
- other artists
- many of Europe's nobility
Tamara's daughter, Kizette, wrote a biography about her mother entitled "Tamara
de Lempicka, Passion by Design". She had this to say about Tamara:
"She painted them all, the rich, the successful, the renowned --the best.
And with many she also slept. The work brought her critical acclaim, social
celebrit and considerable wealth."
In 1939, after her divorce and with the threat of World War II brewing, Tamara
moved to America. She lived in Hollywood, where she quickly became known as
the favorite artist to many of Hollywood's brightest stars. Tamara married
Baron Raoul Kuffner, who was one of her most wealthy clients and they purchased
the famous film director King Vidor's mansion located in Beverly Hills, where they
lived until 1943.
Tamara and her husband moved to New York City in late 1943, where they lived
in one of the city's most elegant apartments. This two
story apartment was home to Tamara's North Light Studio, where she continued painting
in her Art Deco style for several years. Tamara decorated the apartment with
many Hungarian antiques that the Baron had rescued from his Hungarian estate.
After World War II was over, Tamara reopened her once famous studio in Paris,
which she had decorated in the rococo style. Many of her friends in New
York hired Tamara to decorate their apartments with her unique style.
In 1962, Tamara's husband died and she moved to Houston, Texas so she could be
closer to her daughter, Kizette. While living in Houston, Tamara's style of
painting changed slightly. She began to paint using a palette knife.
This style of painting was very popular during the 1960s. Also in 1962, she
began to exhibit many of her newest paintings at the Iolas Gallery in New York.
The art critics did not care for her paintings and there were not many buyers.
This is when Tamara swore that she would never exhibit her artwork again.
The arrival of abstract expressionism style of painting along with Tamara's age
almost halted her art career in the mid 1960s. However, she continued to paint
even though her work was ignored. Tamara stored the paintings in her attic
and at a warehouse that she had rented storage place from.
The Musee des Arts Decoratifs, located in Paris launched a commemorative exhibition
in 1966, called "Les Annees '25". The success of this exhibition created the
first truly serious interest in Art Deco. After visiting this exhibit, Alain
Blondel opened the Galerie du Luxembourg, where he held a major retrospective of
This was a major revelation to the art world and was followed by an exhibition
of Tamara's works at the Knoedler Gallery, located in New York City. Tamara
was not happy with how her artwork was being displayed and made many demands on
how she thought the exhibition should be. This caused the curator of the Knoedler
Gallery to close Tamara's exhibition.
As Art Deco became popular again, Tamara regained popularity. In late 1978,
Tamara moved to Cuernavaca, Mexico, and bought a beautiful house. As the years
went by, Tamara fell into a deep depression over the loss of her beauty and she
sought the company of young artists trying to make herself feel young again.
On March 18, 1980, with Kizette at her bedside, Tamara passed away in her sleep
leaving behind a long and wonderful life and art career. Her final wish was
to be cremated and have her ashes spread on top of the volcano Popocatepetl in Mexico.
You can view many of Tamara's paintings at http://www.goodart.org/artoftdl.htm
"A wonderful play was performed here in LA for many years,
called "Tamara." It was staged in a huge building and the audience could walk
from room to room, following whatever strand of the story they desired. I went
to see it perhaps a dozen times, and each performance was totally different.
There was a sumptuous lunch during the intermission, with wine. Truly great
"Tamara has also been successfully staged a couple of times in Toronto. Fascinating experience."
Women Artists. 1st ed. : Ruggio Publishing, 1977