Tamara de Lempicka

(c. 1895—1980)

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(b ?Moscow, ?c.1895; d Cuernevaca, Mexico, 18 Mar. 1980).

Painter of Polish-Russian birth active mainly in Paris and the USA. According to her own account she was born in Warsaw on 16 May 1898, but other evidence suggests that the place of her birth (and upbringing) was Moscow and that she deducted a few years from her age. In 1916 she married Tadeusz Lempicki, a Russian lawyer and socialite, and in 1918 they fled the Russian Revolution to Paris, where she studied with Maurice Denis and André Lhote. She quickly established a reputation as a painter of portraits, mainly of people in the smart social circles in which she moved—writers, entertainers, the dispossessed nobility of eastern Europe. Her style owes something to the ‘tubism’ of Léger, but is very distinctive in its hard, streamlined elegance and sense of chic decadence—better than anyone else she represents the Art Deco style in painting. Apart from portraits, her main subjects were hefty erotic nudes and still lifes of calla lilies. She received considerable critical acclaim and also became a social celebrity, famed for her aloof Garboesque beauty, her parties, and her voracious sexual appetite (with women as well as men). In 1939 she moved to the USA with her second husband Baron Raoul Huffner, repeating her artistic and social success in Hollywood and New York. By the 1950s, however, her work was going out of fashion. She tried painting pictures in a different, much looser style, but these were coolly received. Interest in her earlier work began to revive in the 1970s and by the 1990s she had again become something of a stylish icon, with her paintings fetching huge prices in the saleroom and featuring in television advertisements as symbols of the high life.

Subjects: Art.

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