In 1914, Maria spotted a handsome man at the Opera and decided she would marry him; it turned out to be a lawyer named Taduesz Lempicki (1888–1951). Two years later they were married in fashionable St Petersburg with her banker-uncle providing the dowry. As Lempicki had no money of his own, he was delighted to marry this young lass. A year later, Taduesz was arrested by the Bolsheviks; Tamara bravely had him freed, flashing the officials with her charms and using the help of the Swedish Consul. The re-united couple fled to Paris, along with many other upper class Russians escaping the Revolution.
In Paris and now called Tamara de Lempicka, the refugee studied art with Andre Lhote, and enrolled at Academie de la Grand Chaumiere. She became a well-known portrait painter with a distinctive Art Deco manner. Quintessentially French, Deco was the part of an exotic, sexy, and glamorous Paris that epitomised Tamara's living and painting style. Unlike Picasso’s random art, Lempicka’s style would be seen as Soft Deco i.e novel, clean, elegant and exact.
Montmartre was becoming too expensive and too crowded, so most artists gradually moved south. Montparnasse had wide boulevards and great light. And there were still many small courtyards. Paris was the centre of the world for art creation and the ideal meeting place for the artists - Lempicka, Jacques Lipchitz, Tristan Tzara and Piet Mondrian were near neighbours, producing a unique and colourful style.
Young Woman in the Green Bugatti, 1925
private collection, Switzerland
private collection, Switzerland
Encouraged by necessity and the modern trends of people like designer Coco Chanel, the New Woman could drive a car herself.
The flat and square dresses of the 1920s provided an ideal canvas to display Art Deco taste. Skirts were shortened and the female figure became formless and androgynous - the waistline dropped to the hips and did not return to its natural position until the 1930s. Nylon, satin, silk and crepe were the most popular materials used to make shaped dresses. Short tubular dresses, long cigarette holders, cloche hats, bobbed hair, plucked eyebrows, bands of diamond bracelets and long, hanging earrings were loved. Socially it was the age of the Flapper, a young woman who went to parties without a chaperone, smoked cigarettes and drove cars. Tamara Lempicka made it her own.
The female silhouette was slim, tall and elegant, inspired by Hollywood films. Girl In Green With Gloves 1929 (Musée National d'Art Moderne Paris) was probably de Lempicka's most famous painting that clearly epitomised the Deco style and modernity. The fabric and hair combined sharp lines and flowing curves.
In Portrait of Madame M 1930 (private collection), Tamara demonstrated her fashionable sense, sleek and seductive. Some curves were back and they were emphasised by the use of fabrics cut on the bias. Early on hemlines dropped to just above the ankle and remained there until WW2. Necklines were lowered; shoulders were squared. Dress waists returned to the natural waistline. Fuller skirts were accentuated a small waist and minimised the hips. Dress bodices were designed with inset pieces and yokes. Necklines were dramatic, with wide scallop-edged or ruffled collars. Skirts were also designed with great detail. Upper skirt yokes were used, designed in a v-shape. The skirt bottom often had pleats or gathers.
Girl In Green With Gloves 1929
Musée National d'Art Moderne Paris
Hollywood and F. Scott Fitzgerald popularised sporty outfits for golf, tennis, swimming; similarly clothes and hats were designed for travelling in ships, trains or motoring in streamlined cars. With freedom of movement a priority, designers such as Elsa Schiaparelli, Jean Patou, Madeleine Vionnet and Gabrielle Chanel created style for the modern woman in the fashion capital of the world, Paris.
Tamara de Lempicka definitely moved in smart and intellectual social circles! In the 1920s she became closely associated with some of my all-time favourite women in the inter-war literary set, especially Vita Sackville-West and Violet Trefusis. It probably didn’t matter to Tamara that her husband divorced her in 1931 in Paris.
Art Deco made great progress in fine arts and industrial designs, based on simple format, clean lines and vivid colours. The improvement of technology, especially in industrial products like cars, ships and trains, emphasised stylised angular forms. Tamara de Lempicka found soul mates in fashion illustrator Erte, glass artist Rene Lalique and graphic designer Cassandre.
Portrait of Madame M, 1932
sold by Christie's New York in May 2009 for $6.13 million
de Lempicka had 3 fashion imperatives: simple cubist lines, as in Woman Wide Brimmed Hat 1934; clear, glowing colours; and a strong interpretation of the female form. She was the demonstrator of the female form in 1930s Art Deco clothes - sleek and seductive, abstract-ish and modern.
de Lempicka herself received acclaim for her cool Garbo-esque beauty, her parties and love affairs. Her beauty and opinionated nature also increased her celebrity. Her style only declined as conservatism started to challenge the feminist advances she had championed. The Art Deco woman, that was once an object of desire, was seen to regress toward demeaning caricatures of unbridled sexuality.
In 1934 de Lempicka married Baron Raoul Huffner (1886–1961), one of her earliest and wealthiest patrons and a recent widower. When WW2 broke out, the couple moved to Beverly Hills in America, and she became the Favourite Artist of the Hollywood Stars.
The Baron and Tamara moved to New York City in 1943, and continued painting in the old style for a while. Tamara decorated the apartment with the antiques she and the Baron had rescued from his Hungarian estate. And when the war was over, she reopened her famous Paris studio in the rue Mechain.
La Musicienne 1929
was at Scheringa Museum in Spanbroek
It took until 1966 for Musee des Arts Decoratifs to mount a commemorative exhibition in Paris, re-creating a serious interest in Art Deco. And Alain Blondel opened Galerie du Luxembourg and launched a major retrospective of Tamara de Lempicka. But it was too late in her career. In 1978 she moved to Mexico and died in 1980.
In 2009 masked gunmen stole art from a Dutch museum. Police said several robbers threatened a guard with a gun before making off with two paintings. The robbers a work by surrealist Salvador Dali. And they took La Musicienne 1929, a de Lempicka oil painting that showed a woman in a vivid blue dress playing a mandolin instrument. It had been a treasured painting.