Free, traveler, trendy, progressive, eccentric, elegant and transgressive, symbol of an era and undisputed protagonist of the Art Déco movement.
A sophisticated and sensual woman, with a proud look and bright red lips, sitting confident behind the wheels of a green Bugatti: this is how the Polish painter Tamara de Lempicka portrayed herself in her famous self-portrait, used as the cover of the fashion magazine “Die Dame”. Painted in 1929, it is a symbol of an era and of a new femininity, an emancipated and open-minded one.
From Gorska to de Lempicka
Although there are doubts about the date and place of her birth, it is believed that Tamara Gorska was born in Warsaw in 1898. She lived a comfortable childhood, although deprived of the presence of her father. Indeed, her grandmother was entrusted with her education and took her to Italy for the first time, making her fall in love with the great masters of painting. After moving to her aunt’s house in Saint Petersburg, Tamara Gorska started frequenting the sophisticated environments of the high society; it was at a party that she met her fiancé Tadeusz Lempicki, hence the surname “de Lempicka” that she later chose as her stage name.
A life of excesses
The outbreak of the October Revolution forced the couple to move to Paris, where Tamara took lessons with Denis and Lothe and began to exhibit her artworks in the most important salons, in the meantime becoming the mother of Kizette. Those were insane years, like the ones that Scott Fitzgerald also described in his novel “The Great Gatsby”: exclusive parties, expensive clothes and jewels, hard drugs, frenetic work, depression, casual and scandalous relationships both with men and women, including Ira Perrot, Rafaela Fano and Suzy Solidor.
With their perfect make-up and latest-fashion dresses, or completely undressed and in daring poses, these seductive women are the protagonists of her canvases with their sensual look and bright red lips, thus becoming the icons of a golden but ephemeral era. Her paintings are made up of clean and curved lines, of powerful but sinuous bodies, of reduced but brilliant colors – red is always present – and clear-cut shadows, which manage to hide the influence of Ingres, Michelangelo, Pontormo, Caravaggio, Botticelli, Hayez and Cubism, which the painter skillfully combined in an unmistakable style, able to seduce at first glance.
Tamara de Lempicka , The pink shirt, 1927 circa.
America: the decline and rise of a baroness
After divorcing her husband and refusing the court of Gabriele D’Annunzio – who had her as his guest at the Vittoriale Palace in the famous room destined to the poet’s erotic conquests, called “Stanza della Leda” -, Tamara, who was by then a well-known artist thanks to the success of the sensual Girl in a green dress (Young Lady with gloves), married Baron Kuffner in 1933, with whom she moved to New York City in 1939.
Here, the always impeccable baroness, with her jewels and fashionable clothes, soon stopped participating in public exhibitions, being disappointed by the cold way in which her latest artworks were welcomed, due to their more abstract content. 1972 was the year of her new rise, when her beloved Paris made her shine again thanks to the great exhibition organized at the Galerie du Luxembourg.
Tamara de Lempicka , Girl in a green dress (Young Lady with gloves), 1931.
The ashes of the Popocatepetl
Tamara de Lempicka passed away in 1980, in the Mexican city of Cuernavaca: following her will, her ashes were scattered on the crater of the volcano Popocatepetl. This is how her existence ended, the existence of a woman who was always behind the wheel of her life, just like the one of a green Bugatti.