Tamara de Lempicka: the life and works of the daring polish painter

Tamara de Lempicka: the life and works of the daring polish painter

Tamara de Lempicka wore different hats in her era. She was a socialite, wife, refugee, mother, and painter. She was the most famous painter of the Art Deco period. Her portraits were so appealing to the elite since she used bold colours, unique styles, and a sense of elegance.

Tamara de Lempicka
Tamara De Lempicka (Right) with a friend in the 1940'S-1950'S. Photo: Keystone-France
Source: Getty Images

Tamara de Lempicka studied painting with Maurice Denis and André Lhote. Her style was a blend of late refined cubism and the neoclassical style mainly inspired by the work of Jean-Dominique Ingres. She was an active participant in the artistic and social life of Paris between the Wars.

Tamara de Lempicka's profile summary

  • Full name: Maria Gorska
  • Celebrated name: Tamara de Lempicka
  • Gender: Female
  • Date of birth: 16th May 1898
  • Birth sign: Pisces
  • Place of birth: Warsaw, Poland
  • Date of death: 18th March 1980
  • Age at death: 81 years
  • Place of death: Cuernavaca, Mexico
  • Nationality: Polish
  • Ethnicity: White
  • Sexual orientation: Bisexual
  • Father: Boris Gurwik-Górski
  • Mother: Malwina Dekler
  • Siblings: Stanczyk and Adrienne.
  • Marital status: Married
  • Spouse: (Tadeusz Łempicki m. 1916; div. 1931, Raoul Kuffner de Diószegh m. 1934; died 1961)
  • Children: Maria Krystyna 'Kizette' Łempicka Foxhall
  • Education: Lausanne Switzerland (boarding)
  • Profession: Professional painter
  • Style: Art deco

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Tamara de Lempicka's early life

Tamara was born Maria Gorska in Warsaw, Congress, Poland. She was born on 16th May 1898 under the authority of the Russian Empire. She was raised in a wealthy and prominent family. Her parents were Boris Gurwik-Górski (father) and Malwina Dekler (mother).

Maria's father was a Russian Jewish attorney for a French training company. On the other hand, her mother was a polish socialite. Boris met Malwina at one of the European spas. Where did Tamara school? She went to a boarding school in Lausanne, Switzerland.

In 1911, Tamara went to Italy to spend the holidays with her grandmother. It was in Italy where she was introduced to some of the greatest Italian painters. This sparked a love of art that would inform the rest of her life.

Tamara de Lempicka
A portrait of the painter Tamara de Lempicka is shown during an exhibition on 04 May 2007 in Vigo. Photo: Miguel Riopa
Source: Getty Images

Unfortunately, her parents ended their union in divorce in 1912. As a result, she was sent to go and live with one of her aunts in St Petersburg. It was a one of a kind moment for her as she got to experience and enjoy the luxury of the rich elite since her aunt was wealthy.

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At the age of 15 years, she attended an opera where she first met Tadeusz Lempicki. Maria was determined to marry him and thus convinced her uncle to introduce them. Three years down the line, the two exchanged their wedding vows.

The Russian Revolution started in 1917, and as a result, Maria's husband was arrested by the Bolsheviks. She spent weeks locating her husband in prison by exploiting her charm, social connection and attractive looks. After the successful release, the duo left the country and settled in Paris, where the rest of the family members had taken refuge.

The painter was bisexual, with most of her affairs considered scandalous at the time. Most of the time, she used formal and narrative elements in all her portraits. Tamara de Lempicka's nudes portrayed themes of seduction and desire.

In the 1920s, she was associated with bisexual and lesbian women in artistic and writing circles such as Violet Trefusis, Vita Sackville-West, and Colette. She was also involved with Suzy Solidor, a nightclub singer.

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Tamara de Lempicka's work

Upon relocation to Paris, she reinvented herself as Tamara de Lempicka. Maria started to study art at the Saint Petersburg Academy of Arts and Académie de la Grande Chaumière as a refuge. She gained fame for being one of the best portrait painters with a distinguished Art Deco manner. Tamara de Lempicka's paintings were portraits of:

  • Writers
  • Entertainers
  • Artists
  • Scientists
  • Industrialists
  • Eastern Europe's exiled nobility

With these paintings, she earned critical acclaim, social celebrity, and considerable wealth. Apart from portraits of the wealthy aristocrats, she also painted highly stylized nudes. Most of them were mainly female, depicted alone or in groups.

A while later, she left Paris for the United States at the threat of the Second World War together with her second husband. The duo first settled in Los Angeles, California. Shortly afterwards, The Paul Reinhard Gallery organized a show of her work, and they moved to Beverly Hills.

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During the postwar modernism and abstract expressionism, her deco art style looked old-fashioned; therefore, she expanded her subject matter to include still lifes. Then, in 1960, she started painting abstract works and palette knives rather than her smooth brushwork.

She started repainting some of the earlier pieces by applying her new painting style. For instance, her 1946, Amethyste (crispy and direct) became the 1963 Girl with Guitar (pink and fuzzy). In May and June 1961, Tamara de Lempicka's famous paintings were showcased at the Ror Volmar Gallery in Paris. However, the show did not revive her previous success.

Her husband passed away in November 1961, after which she sold a majority of her possessions and made three around-the-world trips by ship. In 1963, she relocated to Houston, Texas, to be with her family. She also retired from being a professional artist.

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She continued to repaint most of her earlier works in retirement. For example, she repainted her renowned 1929 Autoportrait twice between 1974 and 1979. Her Autoportrait III was sold, while her Autoportrait II was hung in her retirement apartments, where it would remain until her death.

The last work she painted was the fourth copy of her painting of St. Anthony. She died on 18th March 1980 in her sleep after years of declined health. Her ashes were scattered over the volcano Popocatepetl according to her wishes.

Tamara de Lempicka
A visitor studies an exhibit on display at the Exhibition - 'Tamara de Lempicka, Queen of the Art Deco' exhibition opening at La Pinacotheque in Paris, France. Photo: Marc Piasecki
Source: Getty Images

Tamara de Lempicka's artworks include:

  • Self-portrait in the green Bugatti
  • La Belle Rafaela
  • Kizette on the balcony
  • Blue woman with a guitar
  • Kizette in pink
  • Group of four nudes
  • Young lady with gloves
  • Sleeping girl
  • Portrait du Marquis Sommi
  • The green turban
  • Portrait of the duchess of la salle
  • The sleeper
  • The girls
  • Nana de Herrera
  • Women bathing
  • Saint Moritz
  • Idyll
  • The Marquis D'afflitto on a staircase
  • Mexican girl
  • The model
  • Irene and her sister
  • Calla Lillies
  • The refugees
  • Jeune fille en vert
  • Nude on a terrace
  • The straw hat
  • Reclining nude i
  • Portrait of baroness Kizette
  • Printemps
  • The mother superior
  • Woman in black dress
  • In the middle of summer
  • The orange turban
  • Double 47
  • Redheaded woman reading
  • Amethyst
  • Portrait de la duchesse de la salle
  • The telephone

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Quick facts about Tamara de Lempicka

  1. Who was Tamara de Lempicka? She was a painter who spent her working life in France and the United States.
  2. Was Tamara de Lempicka married? Yes, she was. She married Tadeusz Łempicki before divorcing him and marrying Raoul Kuffner de Diószegh.
  3. What inspired Tamara de Lempicka? The work of Jean-Dominique Ingres inspired her.
  4. Where did Tamara de Lempicka come from? She was born and raised in Warsaw, Congress, Poland.
  5. Where did Tamara de Lempicka study? She went to boarding school in Lausanne, Switzerland and later studied art at the Saint Petersburg Academy of Arts and Académie de la Grande Chaumière.
  6. How did Tamara de Lempicka's die? She died in her sleep in Cuernavaca, Mexico.
  7. How old was Tamara de Lempicka when she died? She was 81 years old when she passed away. She died on 18th March 1980.
  8. How many children did Tamara de Lempicka have? She has one daughter, known as Maria Krystyna 'Kizette' Łempicka Foxhall.

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The fascinating events from the life of Tamara de Lempicka often overshadow the significant contribution she made to the development of modern art. Although her work was defined as art Deco, she revolutionized the portrait style to showcase a liberated and independent woman.

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