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The smoothly metallic portraits, nudes and still lifes of Tamara de Lempicka encapsulate the spirit of Art Deco and the Jazz Age, and reflect the elegant and hedonistic life-style of a wealthy, glamorous and privileged elite in Paris between the two World Wars. Combining a formidable classical technique with elements borrowed from Cubism, de Lempicka's art represented the ultimate in fashionable modernity while looking back for inspiration to such master portraitists as Ingres and Bronzino. This book celebrates the sleek and streamlined beauty of her best work in the 1920s and 30s. It traces the extraordinary life story of this talented and glamorous woman from turn of the century Poland and Tsarist Russia, through to her glorious years in Paris and the long years of decline and neglect in America, until her triumphant rediscovery in the 1970s when her portraits gained iconic status and world-wide popularity.
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Year:
2012
Publisher:
Parkstone International
Language:
english
Pages:
207 / 208
ISBN 10:
1781603510
ISBN 13:
9781781603512
Series:
Temptis
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PDF, 24.01 MB
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pvq
beautiful book in original pdf...
19 September 2021 (22:40) 

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LEMPICKA

Patrick Bade

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Text: Patrick Bade
Layout: Baseline Co Ltd
127-129 A Nguyen Hue
Fiditourist, 3rd floor
District 1, Hô Chi Minh-Ville
Vietnam
© Parkstone Press International, New York, USA
© Confidential Concepts, worldwide, USA
© de Lempicka Estate / Artists Rights Society, New York, USA / ADAGP
© Denis Estate / Artists Rights Society, New York, USA / ADAGP
© Lepape Estate / Artists Rights Society, New York, USA / ADAGP.
© Dix Estate / Artists Rights Society, New York, USA / VG Bild-Kunst.
© Pierre et Gilles. Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont, Paris
© O'Keeffe Estate / Artists Rights Society, New York USA
© Lotte Lasterstein.
All rights reserved
No part of this publication may be reproduced or adapted without the
permission of the copyright holder, throughout the world. Unless otherwise
specified, copyright in the works reproduced lies with the respective
photographers. Despite intensive research, it has not always been possible to
establish copyright ownership. Where this is the case we would appreciate
notification.

ISBN 978-1-78042-969-4

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L

Tamara de

empicka

Patrick Bade

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Contents
INTRODUCTION

7

EARLY LIFE

9

ART DECO

45

TURNING POINT

101

MASTERWORKS

133

BIBLIOGRAPHY

204

BIOGRAPHY

205

INDEX

206

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Introduction

T

amara de Lempicka created some of the most iconic images of the twentieth century.
Her portraits and nudes of the years 1925-1933 grace the dust jackets of more books
than the work of any other artist of her time. Publishers understand that in

reproduction, these pictures have an extraordinary power to catch the eye and kindle the
interest of;  the public. In recent years, the originals of the images have fetched record sums at
Christie’s and Sotheby’s. Beyond the purchasing power of most museums, these paintings have
been eagerly collected by film and pop stars.
In May 2004, the Royal Academy of Arts in London staged a major show of de
Lempicka’s work just one year after she had figured prominently in another big exhibition
of Art Deco at the Victoria and Albert museum. The public flocked to the show despite a
critical reaction of unprecedented hostility towards an artist of such established reputation
and market value.
In language of moral condemnation hardly used since Hitler’s denunciations of modern art
at the Nuremberg rallies and the Nazi-sponsored exhibition of Degenerate Art, the art critic of
the Sunday Times, Waldemar Januszczak, fulminated “I had assumed her to be a mannered
and shallow peddler of Art Deco banalities. But I was wrong about that. Lempicka was
something much worse. She was a successful force for aesthetic decay, a melodramatic
corrupter of a great style, a pusher of empty values, a degenerate clown and an essentially
worthless artist whose pictures, to our great shame, we have somehow contrived to make
absurdly expensive.”
According to Januszczak, de Lempicka did not arrive in Paris in 1919 as an innocent refugee
from the Russian Revolution but on a sinister mission, intending “an assault on human
decency and the artistic standards of her time.” One cannot help wondering what it was about
de Lempicka’s art that should bring down upon it such hysterical vituperation. There is a clue
perhaps in his waspish observation “Luther Vandross collects her, apparently. Madonna.

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Streisand. That type.”

Tamara de Lempicka in evening dress,

The hostility is perhaps more politically than aesthetically motivated and what really got

c. 1929.

under the skin of certain critics was the glamorous life style of Tamara’s collectors as well as of

Black and white photograph

her sitters.

on paper, 22.3 x 12 cm.

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Early Life

T

amara de Lempicka’s origins and her early life are shrouded in mystery. Our
knowledge of her background is dependent upon some highly unreliable fragments
of autobiography, and upon the accounts given by her daughter Baroness Kizette de

Lempicka-Foxhall to de Lempicka’s American biographer Charles Phillips. De Lempicka was a
fabulist and a self mythologiser of the first order, capable of deceiving her daughter and even
herself. Much of her story as told by her daughter has the ring of a romantic novel or a movie
script and may not be much more authentic.
Both the place and the date of de Lempicka’s birth vary in different accounts. There is
nothing more significant in the changing birth dates than the vanity of a beautiful woman (in
Tamara’s time female opera singers with the official title of Kammersängerin had the legal right

in the Austro-Hungarian Empire to change the date of their birth by up to five years).
According to some, de Lempicka changed her birth place from Moscow to Warsaw which
could be more significant. There has been speculation that de Lempicka was of Jewish origin on
her father’s side and that the deception over her place of birth resulted from an attempt to cover
this up. Certainly the ability to reinvent oneself time and again in new locations, manifested by
de Lempicka throughout her life, was a survival mechanism developed by many Jews of her
generation. The prescience of the danger of Nazi Germany in a woman not usually politically
minded and her desire to leave Europe in 1939 might also suggest that she was part Jewish.
The official version was that Tamara Gurwik-Gorska was born in 1898 in Warsaw into a
wealthy and upper-class Polish family. Following three partitions in the late eighteenth century,
the larger part of Poland including Warsaw was absorbed into the Russian Empire. The rising
tide of nationalism in the nineteenth century brought successive revolts against Russian rule
and increasingly harsh attempts to Russify the Poles and to repress Polish identity. There is
little to suggest that Tamara ever identified with the cultural and political aspirations of the
Polish people. On the contrary, she seems to have identified with the ruling classes of the
Tzarist regime that oppressed Poland. It is telling that in 1918 when she escaped from
Bolshevist Russia she chose exile in Paris along with thousands of Russian aristocrats, rather
than live in the newly liberated and independent Poland.
The family of her mother, Malvina Decler, was wealthy enough to spend the “season” in St.
Petersburg and to travel to fashionable spas throughout Europe. It was on one such trip that
Malvina Decler met her future husband Boris Gorski. Little is known about him except that he
was a lawyer working for a French firm. For whatever reason Boris Gorski was not someone
that Tamara chose to highlight in her accounts of her early life.
From what Tamara herself later said, she seems to have enjoyed a happy childhood with her
older brother Stanczyk and her younger sister Adrienne. The wilfulness of her temperament,
apparent from an early age, was indulged rather than tamed. The commissioning of a portrait
of Tamara at the age of twelve turned into an important and revelatory event. “My mother
decided to have my portrait done by a famous woman who worked in pastels. I had to sit still

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for hours at a time…more…it was a torture. Later I would torture others who sat for me. When

Portrait of Baroness Renata Treves, 1925.

she finished, I did not like the result, it was not… precise. The lines, they were not fournies,

Oil on canvas, 100 x 70 cm,

not clean. It was not like me. I decided I could do better. I did not know the technique.

Barry Friedman Ltd., New York.

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Peasant Girl Praying, c. 1937.

Oil on canvas, 25 x 15 cm,
Private Collection.
Page 13
The Polish Girl, 1933.

Oil on panel, 35 x 27 cm,
Private Collection.

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I had never painted, but this was unimportant. My sister was two years younger. I obtained the
paint. I forced her to sit. I painted and painted until at last, I had a result. It was imparfait but
more like my sister than the famous artist’s was like me.”
If Tamara’s vocation was born from this incident as she suggests, it was encouraged further
the following year when her grandmother took her on a trip to Italy. According to Tamara, she
and her grandmother colluded to persuade the family that the trip was necessary for health
reasons. The young girl feigned illness and her grandmother was eager to accompany Tamara
to the warmer climes of Rome, Florence and Monte Carlo as a cover for her passion for
gambling. The elderly Polish lady and her startlingly beautiful granddaughter must have
looked as picturesquely exotic as the Polish family observed by Aschenbach in Thomas
Mann’s novella Death in Venice. Visits to museums in Venice, Florence and Rome lead to a life
long passion for Italian Renaissance art that informed de Lempicka’s finest work in the 1920s
and 30s. A torn and crumpled photograph of Tamara taken in Monte Carlo shows her as a
typical young girl de bonne famille of the period before the First World War. Her lovingly
combed hair cascades with Pre-Raphaelite abundance over her shoulders and almost down to
her waist. She poses playing the children’s game of diabolo but her voluptuous lips and coolly
confident gaze belie her thirteen years. It would not be long before she would be ready for the
next great adventure of her life – courtship and marriage. Played against the backdrop of the
First World War and the death throes of the Russian monarchy, the story as passed down by
Tamara and her daughter is, as so often in de Lempicka’s life, worthy of a popular romantic
novel or movie.
When Tamara’s mother remarried, the resentful daughter went to stay with her Aunt
Stephanie and her wealthy banker husband in St. Petersburg, where she remained trapped by
the outbreak of war and the subsequent German occupation of Warsaw. Just before the war
when Tamara was still only fifteen, she spotted a handsome young man at the opera
surrounded by beautiful and sophisticated women and instantly decided that she had to have
him. His name was Tadeusz Lempicki. Though qualified as a lawyer, he was something of a
playboy, from a wealthy land-owning family. With her customary boldness and lack of
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inhibitions, the young girl flouted convention by approaching Tadeusz and making an

Peasant Girl with Pitcher, c. 1937.

elaborate curtsey. Tamara had the opportunity to reinforce the impression she had made on

Oil on panel, 35 x 27 cm,

Tadeusz at their first meeting when later in the year, her uncle gave a costume ball to which

Private collection.

Lempicki was invited. In amongst the elegant and sophisticated ladies in the Poiret-inspired
fashions of the the day, Tamara appeared as a peasant goose-girl leading a live goose on a string.

Page 16

Barbara Cartland and Georgette Heyer could not have invented a ploy more effective for

The Peasant Girl, c. 1937.

catching the eye of the handsome hero. In an account that has the ring of truth to it, Tamara

Oil on canvas, 40.6 x 30.5 cm,

admitted that the brokering of her marriage to Tadeusz by her Uncle was less than entirely

Lempicka’s Succession.

romantic. The wealthy banker went to the handsome young man about town and said “Listen.
I will put my cards on the table. You are a sophisticated man, but you don’t have much fortune.

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I have a niece, Polish, whom I would like to marry. If you will accept to marry her, I will give

The Fortune Teller, c. 1922.

her a dowry. Anyway, you know her already.”

Oil on canvas, 73 x 59.7 cm,
Barry Friedman Ltd., New York.

14

By the time the marriage took place in the chapel of the Knights of Malta in the recently renamed Petrograd in 1916, Romanov Russia was on the verge of collapse under the onslaught

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of the German army and on the point of being engulfed in revolution. The tribulations of the
newly married couple after the rise of the Bolsheviks belong not so much to the plot of a novel
as of an opera, with Tamara cast in the role of Tosca and Tadeusz as Cavaradossi.
Given the background and life-style of the couple and the reactionary political
sympathies and activities of Tadeusz, it was not surprising that he should have been arrested
under the new regime. Tamara remembered that she and Tadeusz were making love when
the secret police pounded at the door in the middle of the night and hauled Tadeusz off to
prison. In her efforts to locate her husband and to arrange for his escape from Russia,
Tamara enlisted the help of the Swedish consul who like Scarpia in Puccini’s operatic
melodrama, demanded sexual favours. Happily the outcome was different from that of
Puccini’s opera and neither party cheated the other. Tamara gave the Swedish consul what
he wanted and he honoured his promise not only to aid Tamara’s escape from Russia but also
the subsequent release and escape of her husband. Tamara travelled on a false passport via
Finland to be re-united with relatives in Copenhagen. It was a route followed by countless
Russian aristocrats, artists and intellectuals, often with hardly less colourful adventures than
those of Tamara and Tadeusz. The beautiful and extremely voluptuous soprano Maria
Kouznetsova, a darling of Imperial Russia, escaped on a Swedish freighter, somewhat
improbably disguised as a cabin boy.
Refugees from the Russian Revolution fanned out across the globe, but Paris which had
long been a second home to well-healed Russians, became a Mecca for White Russians in the
inter-war period. Inevitably, Tamara and Tadeusz were drawn there along with Tamara’s
mother and younger sister (her brother was one of the millions of casualties of the war).
Unlike so many refugees who arrived there penniless and friendless they could at least rely
upon help from Aunt Stefa and her husband, who had managed to retain some of his wealth
and to re-establish himself in his former career as a banker.
From the turn of the century the political alliance between Russia and France – aimed at
containing the menace of Wilhelmine Germany – encouraged the growth of cultural links
between the two countries. The great impresario Sergei Diaghilev took advantage of this
political climate to establish himself in Paris. In 1906, Diaghilev organised an exhibition of

Page 18

Russian portraits at the Grand Palais that pioneered a more imaginative presentation of

The Gypsy, c. 1923.

paintings and sculptures. Following this success, he arranged concerts that for the first time

Oil on canvas, 73 x 60 cm,

presented to the French public the music of such composers as Glazunov, Rachmaninov,

Private Collection.

Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky and Scriabin. Young French musicians, yearning to escape from
under the shadow of Wagner, were enchanted by this music that was fresh and new and not

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German. In 1908 at the Paris Opera, Diaghilev put on the first performances in the West of the

Woman Wearing a Shawl, in Prof ile,

greatest of all Russian operas, Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov. Paris was overwhelmed not only by

c. 1922. Oil on canvas, 61 x 46 cm,

the originality and barbarous splendour of Mussorgsky’s music, but also by the revelation of the

Barry Friedman Ltd., New York.

interpretative genius of the bass Feodor Chaliapin. Chaliapin had terrified audiences standing
on their seats trying to see the ghost in the famous Clock Scene and immediately established a

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reputation as the greatest singing actor of the age. Misia Sert, perhaps the most influential

Portrait of a Young Lady in a Blue Dress,

arbiter of fashionable taste in these years wrote “I left the theatre stirred to the point of realising

1922. Oil on canvas, 63 x 53 cm,

that something had changed in my life.”

Barry Friedman Ltd., New York.

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The following year, Diaghilev’s efforts climaxed in the presentation to the Parisian public of
the Russian ballet. Parisians were dazzled by the dancing and choreographic talents of a
company that included such legendary names as Nijinsky, Pavlova, Karsavina and Fokine and
by the experience of ballet, not as trivial entertainment but as a kind of Gesamtkunstwerk.
Diaghilev and his ballet company continued to dazzle and astonish Paris for the next two
decades. Diaghilev had an unparalleled talent for divining and developing the talents of others.
Without mentioning the dancers and choreographers who created modern ballet under his
aegis, the list of artists and musicians who worked for Diaghilev is a compendium of the
greatest talent of the age and includes Stravinsky, Debussy, Ravel, Richard Strauss, Satie, Falla,
Resphigi, Prokofiev, Poulenc, Milhaud, Bakst, Goncharova, Larionov, Balla, Picasso, Derain,
Braque, Gris, Marie Laurencin, Max Ernst, Miro, Coco Chanel, Utrillo, Rouault, de Chirico,
Gabo, Pevsner and Cocteau.
Tamara de Lempicka’s career peaked in the year of Diaghilev’s death, 1929, and the
trajectory of his brilliant career has relevance to hers in more ways than one. Diaghilev
probably had more to do than anyone with establishing the myth of Russian creativity and
exoticism in the arts. In later years when supplies of genuine Russian dancers were cut off by
the Russian Revolution and Diaghilev was forced to use British dancers, he maintained their
mystique by Russifying their names. So it was that Alice Marks became Alicia Markova, Patrick
Healey-Kay mutated into Anton Dolin and Hilda Munnings became Lydia Sokolova after a spell
under the unconvincing sobriquet of Hilda Munningsova. By the 1930s the idea that to be
Russian was to be glamorous and exotic had permeated popular culture. In the 1937 version of
the film A Star is Born, the young girl being groomed for stardom, played by Janet Gaynor is
repeatedly asked by an employee of the studio publicity department if she has any Russian
ancestry in the hope of creating a more exciting image for her.
Diaghilev’s designers, notably Leon Bakst, played a vital role in developing the Art Deco
style with which de Lempicka became associated. In particular Bakst’s designs for the 1910
production of Sheherazade had an extraordinary impact on fashion and interior design. For
the next generation, fashionable Parisian hostesses dressed themselves and decorated their
salons as though for an oriental orgy. Even in the late 1920s, photographs of Tamara de
Lempicka’s bedrooms show decors which, though much pared down from the lushness of
Bakst’s designs, make them look as if Nijinsky’s sex slave would not be out of place as an
overnight guest.
Paris in the inter-war period was teeming with Russian refugees. It was jokingly said that
every second taxi driver in Paris was either a real or pretend Grand Duke. It was a situation
that inspired the popular play Tovarich (turned into a Hollywood movie in 1937 starring
Charles Boyer and Claudette Colbert) in which two former members of the Russian royal
family are forced to earn a living as a butler and ladies’ maid in a wealthy Parisian household.
A book on Parisian pleasures with charming Art Deco illustrations, entitled Paris leste

22

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commented on Russians partying in Paris, “you could think that there was a pre-war Russian

Woman with Dove, 1931.

party – that is to say a party where the Russians have money and a post-war Russian party,

Oil on panel, 37 x 28 cm,

which is a party where the Russians don’t have money anymore. It’s the same thing! You find

Private Collection.

the same princes, the same imperial officers and officials in the same clubs. They’re doing the

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Women Bathing, 1929.

Oil on canvas, 89 x 99 cm,
Private Collection.

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same thing. The only difference is that they used to be the clients and paid, whereas now they
are employed by the house.” Tamara herself later claimed to be employing a couple of Russian
aristocrats in disguise when she went to live in Hollywood.
Apart from all the dancers, musicians and artists associated with Diaghilev already
mentioned, there were numerous creative Russians intermittently or permanently resident in
Paris. They included the conductor Sergei Koussevitsky, the harpsichordist Wanda Landowska,
the singers Nina Koshetz, Oda Slobodskaya, Natalie Wetchor and the entire Kedroff family, all
of whom played an important role in the musical life of Paris and the artists Marc Chagall,
Sonia Delaunay-Terk, Natalia Goncharova, Nadia Khodossivitch-Leger, Jacques Lipchitz, Serge
Poliakoff, Chaim Soutine, Ossip Zadkine, Romain de Tirtoff (known, as Erté), Chana Orloff,
Antoine Pevsner and, after 1933, Naum Gabo and Vassili Kandinsky.
De Lempicka’s early years in Paris were not happy. Though never reduced to the penury of
so many of her refugee compatriots, she was nevertheless dependent upon the largesse of her
wealthier relations. Despite the birth of her daughter Kizette, Tamara’s love match with Tadeusz
was turning sour as a result of her own infidelities and his frustrations. He refused as
demeaning the offer of a job in her uncle’s bank. According to her own account it was out of
this grim situation and a desire for financial and personal independence that de Lempicka’s
artistic vocation was born. Tamara confessed her plight to her younger sister Adrienne,
resulting in the following conversation between the sisters; – “Tamara, why don’t you do
something – something of your own? Listen to me, Tamara. I am studying architecture. In two
years I’ll be an architect, and I’ll be able to make my own living and even help out Mama. If I
can do this, you can do something too” “What? What? What?” “I don’t know, painting
perhaps. You can be an artist. You always loved to paint. You have talent. That portrait you did
of me when we were children….” The rest, as they say, is history. Tamara bought the brushes
and paints, enrolled in an art school, sold her first pictures within months and made her first
million (francs) by the time she was twenty-eight.
Once again, de Lempicka’s life, according to her own version, begins to sound like a bad movie
script and it’s impossible to believe it can all have been that simple. A woman who continued to
practice her art so doggedly long after it passed out of fashion and there was nothing practical to
be gained from it, cannot have taken up her vocation in such a casual way and on such purely
mercenary grounds. Nevertheless Tamara took herself for tuition to two distinguished painters in
succession; Maurice Denis (1870-1943) and André Lhote (1885-1962).
De Lempicka later claimed that she did not gain much from Denis. It is indeed difficult to
imagine that the intensely Catholic Denis would have been much in sympathy with the
worldly, modish and erotic tendencies that soon began to display themselves in Tamara’s work.
Nevertheless Denis was an intelligent initial choice as a teacher for the aspiring artist. For a
brief period in the early 1890s Denis had been at the cutting edge of early modernism as a
leading member of the Nabis group that included Vuillard, Bonnard, Sérusier, Ranson and
Vallotton. Inspired by the synthetism of Gauguin’s Breton paintings, Denis and his friends

Page 26

broke with the naturalism of Salon painting and the very different naturalism of the

Group of Four Nudes, c. 1925.

impressionists who were tied to sensory perception and painted small pictures in flat patches

Oil on canvas, 130 x 81 cm,

of bright, exaggerated colours. In 1890 when he was only 20, Denis published his Definition of

Private Collection.

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Page 28-29
The Sleeping Girl, 1923.

Oil on canvas, 89 x 146 cm,
Private Collection.
Page 30
Seated Nude, c. 1923.

Oil on canvas, 94 x 56 cm,
Private Collection.
Page 31
Nude, Blue Background, 1923.

Oil on canvas, 70 x 58.5 cm, Private
Collection.

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Neo-traditionism chiefly remembered today for its resounding opening statement, “It is well to
remember that picture, before being a battle horse, a nude woman or some anecdote, is
essentially a flat surface covered with colours assembled in a certain order.” It is a statement
that could be used to justify the formalism of modern art and even (something that Denis
himself would never have accepted) the abandonment of the figurative in art altogether. After
a visit to Rome in 1898 in the company of André Gide, Denis turned his back on modernism
and was increasingly identified with classicism and with the reactionary Catholicism that was
to have such a baleful influence on French cultural and political life in the twentieth century.
It was perhaps his reputation for being associated with everything most retrogressive in French
art that led de Lempicka to downplay Denis’ importance in her development. However the firm
linearity and smooth modelling of the forms in Denis’ later works as well as his attempts to
marry modernity with the classical tradition can hardly have failed to influence the young de
Lempicka. The aesthetic expressed by Denis in his 1909 publication From Gauguin and Van
Gogh to Classicism was surely one with which she would have agreed. “For us painters, our
progress towards classicism was based on our good judgement in addressing art’s central
problems, both aesthetic and psychological… we demonstrated that any emotion or state of
mind aroused by a particular sight gave rise in the artist’s imagination to symbols or concrete
equivalents which were able to excite identical emotions, of states of mind, without the need
to create a copy of the original sight, and that for each nuance of our emotional make-up there
was a corresponding object in tune with it and able to represent it fully. Art is not simply a
visual sensation that we receive, – a photograph however sophisticated of nature. No, it is a
creation of the mind, for which nature is merely the springboard.” This is surely true of de
Lempicka’s strangely cerebral and abstracted portraits of the 1920s.
De Lempicka was far more ready to acknowledge the influence of her second teacher André
Lhote. Whilst Denis must have seemed like a relic of the nineteenth century, Lhote born in
1885, was not much more than a decade older than de Lempicka herself and was much closer
to her modern and worldly outlook. Lhote had been associated with cubism since 1911 when
he exhibited at the Salon des Independents and the Salon d’Automne alongside artists such as
Jean Metzinger, Roger de La Fresnaye, Albert Gleizes and Fernand Leger. Rather than
following the radical experiments in the dissolution of form in Picasso and Braque’s Analytical
cubism, he was attracted to the brightly coloured and more representational Synthetic cubism
of Juan Gris, Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger. For Lhote, painting was a “plastic
metaphor…pushed to the limit of resemblance “ In words not so different from those of Denis,
he maintained that artists should aim to express an equivalence between emotion and visual
sensation, rather than to copy nature. What made Lhote particularly useful to de Lempicka as
an example and as a teacher was the acceptance of the decorative role of painting, and also his
attempt to fuse elements of cubist abstraction and disruption of conventional perspective with
the figurative and classical tradition. It was significant perhaps that Lhote was the son of a

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woodcarver and that his initial training was in the decorative arts. Like Denis, he continued to

Seated Nude in Prof ile, c. 1923.

be interested in decorative mural painting. His synthesis of cubist angularity and

Oil on canvas, 81 x 54 cm,

fragmentation with the academic tradition proved influential and helped to make cubism

Barry Friedman Ltd., New York.

palatable to a wider public.

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Nude with Sailboats, 1931.

Oil on canvas, 113 x 56.5 cm, Bruce
R. Lewin Gallery, New York.

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The Two Girlf riends, 1930.

Oil on panel, 73 x 38 cm,
Private Collection.

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Nude on a Terrace, 1925.

Oil on canvas, 37.8 x 54.5 cm,
Private Collection.

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If the artist de Lempicka did not spring to life fully formed and fully armed like Athena from
the head of Zeus as she would have us believe, the gestation period of her mature art was
remarkably short – lasting two or three years at most. Her Portrait of a Polo Player painted
around 1922 already shows her predilection for the smart set but could otherwise have been
painted by any competent artist trained in Paris in these years. It has a looseness of touch and
a painterly quality that would soon disappear from her work. The modelling of the face in bold
structural brush strokes shows an awareness of Cezanne that would undoubtedly have been
encouraged by both Denis and Lhote. Similarly lush and painterly is the portrait of
Ira Perrot later re-titled Portrait of a young Lady in a Blue Dress. In its
original form, as exhibited at the Salon d’Automne and photographed
at the time with the model in front of it, it showed Ira Perrot
seated cross-legged in front of cushions piled up exotically in
the manner of Bakst’s Sheherazade designs.
More prophetic both stylistically and in subject matter
than these two portraits is another canvas of the same
period entitled The Kiss. The erotic theme, played out
against an urban back-drop, the element of cubist
stylisation that gives the picture an air of modernity
and dynamism and the metallic sheen on the
gentleman’s top hat all anticipate de Lempicka’s
artistic maturity. The crudeness of the technique is as
yet far from the enamelled perfection of her best work.
Naivety is not in general a quality we associate with de
Lempicka but this picture has the look of a cover for a
lurid popular novel.
The following year we find de Lempicka working on
a series of large scale and monumental female nudes that
might be described as cubified rather than cubist. These
works reflect an interest in the classical and the monumental
that was widespread in western art following the First World War
and throughout the inter-war period.
The entire history of western art from the Ancient world onwards can be seen in
terms of a series of major and minor classical revivals. In an essay of 1926 entitled The Call to
Page 38

Order, Jean Cocteau presented the post-war return to classicism as a necessary reaction to the

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres,

chaos of radical experimentation during the anarchic decade that had preceded the First World

The Turkish Bath, 1862.

War. There was undoubtedly some element of truth in this, though the roots of inter-war

Oil on canvas, diameter 108 cm,

classicism can be traced back much further.

Musée du Louvre, Paris.

A specifically French version of classicism can be seen as a continuing thread in French art
running back as far as Poussin in the seventeenth century. The classicist most often cited in

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connection with de Lempicka is the nineteenth century painter Jean-Auguste-Dominique

Rhythm, 1924. Oil on canvas,

Ingres (1780-1867). The taste for hard, bright colours and enamelled surfaces, the

160 x 144 cm, Private Collection.

combination of abstraction and quasi-photographic realism, the eroticising of the female body

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through the radical distortion of anatomy and the love of luxurious and fashionable
accessories link the female portraits of Ingres and de Lempicka. Baudelaire’s bitchy comment
that Ingres’ ideal was “A provocative, adulterous liaison between the calm solidity of Raphael
and the affectations of the fashion plate” could apply equally well to de Lempicka, What is
perhaps more surprising is the way de Lempicka follows Ingres’ example in treating women
as passive sex objects. Like Ingres she shows virtually no interest in the individual psychology
or personality of her female sitters. De Lempicka’s female nudes are still more closely linked
to Ingres. Her chained and swooning Andromeda with her
upturned eyes and head thrown further back than anatomy
should allow, against a cubified urban backdrop, is clearly an
updated version of Ingres’ Angelica. Her groups of female
nudes piled up like inflatable dolls, descend from Ingres’
notorious Turkish Bath.
Ingres’ reputation enjoyed a considerable revival in the
inter-war period with the two giants of modern painting,
Picasso and Matisse, each paying homage to him in their
different ways. Another nineteenth century painter who was
significant for the classical revival was Pierre Puvis de
Chavannes (1824-1898). In the 1870s just as impressionism,
that most nonclassical of styles, was in full bloom, Puvis de
Chavannes was developing through a series of monumental
murals (often referred to as fresques but painted in oil on
canvas) a style that attempted to embody the timeless
qualities of classicism without falling into the cliches of the
academic art on show at the Paris Salon. Puvis de Chavannes
was a hero to the Nabis group. Denis would undoubtedly
have urged his students including de Lempicka to follow
Puvis’ example. Denis’ fellow Nabi Eduard Vuillard (18681940) wrote “The experiments in stylisation and in
expressive synthesis of form which are typical of today’s art
were all present in the art of Puvis.”
The crisis of confidence suffered by all the impressionists to
a greater or lesser degree in the 1880s caused Renoir to turn back
to the classical tradition. A trip to Italy from 1881 to 1882 during
which he studied Roman wall painting and the Renaissance
masters, prompted Renoir to look with renewed interest at Ingres, an artist hitherto regarded as
an anathema by most artists of the Impressionist group. In the mid 1880s, Renoir developed a
hard-edged style that in turn gave way to the softer but volumetric and monumental style of his
later years that had considerable impact on the classicising painters and sculptors of the
inter- war period. It was the simple lines and large sculptural volumes of Renoir’s late nudes that

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encouraged Aristide Maillol to break with the pathos and “unsculptural” qualities of Rodin’s

The Blue Hour, 1931. Oil on canvas,

expressively modelled sculptures. The key work for the re-launching of a monumental classical

55 x 38 cm, Private Collection.

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style in twentieth century sculpture was Maillol’s La Méditerranée modelled in 1902 and
exhibited in bronze in 1905 in the very same Salon d’Automne that saw the controversial debut
of the Fauve group. It could be argued that Maillol’s monumental neo-neo-classicism had a
longer lasting impact on western art than the spectacular but short lived Fauve movement which
could be seen as a glorious coda to the nineteenth century but something of a dead end. It was
unfortunate for Maillol’s reputation and indirectly for a while at least for de Lempicka’s that
Maillol’s best known pupil was Hitler’s favourite sculptor Arno Breker and that the kind of
monumental classicism pioneered by Maillol and practised by de Lempicka became so closely
associated with totalitarian regimes of the 1930s.
The return to classicism regarded by some followers as a betrayal and even a blasphemous
provocation was given the stamp of approval by the king of the Parisian avant-garde Pablo
Picasso. As early as 1914 (thus well before there was any question of reaction to the
consequences of the war) Picasso began toying with some aspects of classicism, making
portrait drawings based on photographs in a hard linear Ingresque style. A good example is
the portrait of the art-dealer Léonce Rosenberg made in 1915, that is very reminiscent of the
kind of drawings Ingres made of tourists in post Napoleonic Italy. Though de Lempicka was
scathing about Picasso, paintings such as the Seated Nude of 1923 depicting a woman with
colossal thighs and sculptural breasts, show a clear awareness of Picasso’s work – both the
primitivism of the early analytical cubist phase and the gigantic neo-classical female figures of
the post war period.
In the close and somewhat incestuous artistic and intellectual circles of Paris between the
wars, it was inevitable that de Lempicka would have come into contact with most of the leading
artists and intellectuals. Amongst the artists and writers she mixed with were Gide, Marinetti,
Cocteau, Marie Laurencin, Foujita, Chagall, Kiesling and Van Dongen. Cocteau, who warned
her that she risked ruining her art by too much socialising, would have provided her closest
contact with Picasso. Cocteau’s own dazzlingly clever and sophisticated erotic drawings would
have provided de Lempicka with an example of how to combine the avant-garde, the classical
and the slickly commercial. Lifting nude male figures straight from Michelangelo’s Sistine
ceiling and other Renaissance and classical sources, Cocteau added the enlarged genitals,
curling pubic hair and other attributes of homosexual pornography, all drawn in a spare linear
Page 41

style closely based on Picasso’s neo-classical drawings. The result is Michelangelo and Picasso

Maurice Denis,

crossed with Tom of Finland. If the eroticism in de Lempicka’s work is never quite as blatant

The Vengeance of Venus. Psyche Falls Asleep

as Cocteau’s she certainly managed to achieve a similar synthesis of the modern, the

af ter Opening the Casket Containing the

illustrational and the commercial in her mature work of the late 1920s.

Dreams of the Underworld, 1907.

In an article published in 1929, the distinguished French critic Arsène Alexandre remarked

Oil on canvas, 395 x 272 cm,

upon the successful synthesis of classical and modern in de Lempicka’s work, exclaiming

Hermitage St Petersburg.

“What singular, happy contradictions enable her to convey the impression of such modernity
(intense modernity, in my view) while using such purely classical resources? With the

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apparently chilly style that she sometimes pushes to extremes, by what means can she suggest

Suzanne Bathing, c. 1938,

feelings (not to mention sensations) that are generally connected with the opposite pole? How

Oil on canvas, 90 x 60 cm,

can she shift from the expression of chastity, unless of course we find it difficult to distinguish

Private Collection.

one from the other?”

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T

he “intense modernity” and “chilliness” of de Lempicka were both expressed through
a devotion to the mechanical and the metallic that are characteristic of the period.
One of the most distinctive aspects of de Lempicka’s art is the way she paints

everything from human flesh to permed hair and crumpled drapery with metallic sheen. One
is reminded of Manet’s cutting remark on the military paintings of Ernest Meissonier, that
everything looked as though it was made out of metal except the
weapons. In de Lempicka’s work though, the metallic quality comes
from an aesthetic that is in thrall to the machine.
As industrialisation spread through the western world in the
nineteenth century, the machine began to influence every area of
human endeavour. Many artists reacted initially with horror. The
French Symbolist painter Pierre Puvis de Chavannes suffered from
nightmares after visiting the Hall of Machines in the Paris World
Exhibition in 1889. For William Morris, the most influential design
theorist of the late nineteenth century, the machine represented a
threat to everything he held dear. He could not see that the machine
could in fact enable the fulfilment of his desire for art and prosperity
for the people. It was not until after the turn of the century that
architects and designers such as Richard Riemerschmid and Peter
Behrens began to perceive the machine as opportunity rather than a
threat. Fine artists also began to find machines exciting and
beautiful. In the Futurist Manifesto, published in the French
newspaper Le Figaro in 1909, Marinetti proclaimed the advent of “a
new beauty….a roaring motorcar, which runs like a machine gun, is
more beautiful than the Winged Victory of Samothrace.” When
sitting with Marinetti in the Brasserie La Coupole, de Lempicka
became so excited by his rhetoric that she found herself part of a
mob chanting “Burn the Louvre.” She claimed that she was only
thwarted in this plan by the fact that the police had impounded her
improperly parked car.
The Futurist Manifesto stated “We wish to glorify war.” Certainly
the First World War, with mechanized warfare on a hitherto
undreamed of scale and the industrialisation of death, while it put paid to the Futurist
movement, represented a grim triumph for the machine. The reaction of the painter Fernand

Page 46

Léger, who took part in the war as a common soldier was to move towards an art that was more

Sharing Secrets, 1928. Oil on canvas,

populist and a style that was profoundly influenced by the aesthetic of the machine. He began

46 x 38 cm, Galleria Campo dei

painting shiny metallic forms that are not unlike those of de Lempicka.

Fiori, Rome.

In the inter-war period, the cult of the machine permeated every aspect of culture and
society. Motor cars, express trains, aeroplanes, zeppelins and ocean liners replace nymphs and

Page 47

caryatids as decorative motifs on the façades and ceilings of department stores such as Barker’s

Georges Lepape, Cover of Vogue, 15

in London and Bullocks Wilshire in Los Angeles. Le Corbusier described a house as “a machine

March 1927.

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for living in.” Buildings such as Broadcasting House in London and the Coca-Cola bottling
plant in Los Angeles took on the appearance of immobilised ocean liners, while ocean liners
such as the Ile de France, the Normandie, the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth
represented the aspirations and ethos of the Art Deco period in a way that cathedrals had done
for the Middle Ages and museums and railway stations for the nineteenth century.
Even in films such as Fritz Lang’s Metropolis of 1927 and Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times
of 1936 that aim to warn against the dangers of mechanisation, it is clear that the designers
were completely in thrall to the aesthetic of the machine. A naïve and exuberant enthusiasm
for the machine is expressed in Hollywood musicals of the Busby Berkeley type in which
hundreds of girls in massed formations and all looking as though they themselves have been
mass manufactured, move like cogs in a vast machine. The most delightful Hollywood tribute
to the aesthetic appeal of the machine is the sequence in the 1937 RKO movie Shall we dance
in which Fred Astaire dances to the rhythm of the pistons in the shining and immaculately
clean engine room of an ocean liner.
Music too, was affected by the love of machines, from the motoric rhythms of avant-garde
composers such as Stravinsky and Hindemith and the near pictorial evocations of machines in
concert pieces such as Alexander Mosolov’s Iron Foundry and Arthur Honneger’s Pacific 231
(that simulates the sounds of an accelerating locomotive) through to the popular dance bands
of the period such as Wal-Berg in Paris that loved to mimic the sounds of express trains and
urban traffic.
By the 1930s, the machine and mass production had brought just the kind of
democratisation of good design of which William Morris had dreamed. Anyone visiting a fleamarket can pick up 1930s mass produced objects in industrial materials such as bakelite and
chromed metal that are as sleek and aesthetically satisfying as the most luxurious products of
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the period. The mass produced objects of the art nouveau period always looked like shabby and

The Green Turban, 1929.

cheap imitations of expensively handcrafted pieces. But in an interesting reversal, the most

Oil on panel, 41 x 33 cm,

prestigious and expensive craftsmen of the Art Deco period such as the ebonist Jacques-Emile

Private Collection.

Ruhlmann used the most labour intensive techniques and the most precious materials to
reproduce the simple streamlined forms of industrial design.

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The smooth reflective surfaces of the Art Deco style that we see throughout de Lempicka’s

The Girls, c. 1930. Oil on panel,

best work and in particular in works such as Arlette Boucard with arums of 1931 with its glass

35 x 27 cm, Private collection.

topped table and transparent vase, also express a new found desire in western culture for
hygiene. The idea that “cleanliness is next to godliness” had not been central to Christian

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culture prior to the nineteenth century (unlike Jewish and Muslim traditions that had always

The Orange Scarf, 1927.

put great emphasis on personal hygiene). After the notion of germs and the connection

Oil on panel, 41 x 33 cm,

between health and hygiene had been established by Louis Pasteur and others in the mid

Private Collection.

nineteenth century, cleanliness and bathing received greater emphasis in Europe too. As late as
the 1880s when the luxurious Savoy Hotel was built in London, eyebrows were raised at the

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quantities of en suite bathrooms. But by the inter-war period every middle-class household

La Belle Rafaëla in Green, 1927.

included a bathroom, that was likely to be the most modern and best designed room in the

Oil on canvas, 38 x 61 cm,

house with germ-free ceramic, glass and chromed metal surfaces. Lavish bathrooms figure

Private Collection, Paris.

largely in the movies of the period. Unfortunately the publicity photos of de Lempicka’s rue

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Méchain apartment do not show her bathroom, but from the design aesthetic of the rest of the
interiors we can well imagine what it must have looked like.
One of the most iconic images of the Jazz Age and perhaps de Lempicka’s most frequently
reproduced picture is the self-portrait at the wheel of an open-topped Bugatti sports car in de
Lempicka’s favourite “poison green”, commissioned by the German Fashion magazine Die
Dame in 1925. The tight driver’s helmet that masks her permed blond hair and makes her look
more like an aviator than a motorist, and her cool impervious stare characterise her as a
thoroughly independent and self-confident modern woman. Like the sewing machine and the
type-writer in the previous generation (that provided employment however humble inside and
outside the home), the motor car contributed significantly to the
emancipation of women, if only those at the upper end of the
economic scale.
De Lempicka monogrammed this picture with her initials,
looking like an industrial logo on the door of the car. Throughout
the Art Deco period de Lempicka showed her allegiance to the
machine aesthetic by signing her pictures in printed letters that
look like industrial typeface in contrast to the flowing calligraphy
favoured by the more painterly artists of the Belle Epoque.
As Arsène Alexandre suggested, de Lempicka’s modernity also
lay in her combination of coolness and sensuality and a certain
ambiguity. Though he is too discreet to spell it out, this ambiguity
was sexual.
Amongst the value systems that had been thrown into question
by the unparalleled catastrophe of the First World War were
traditional concepts of gender. The 1920s in Paris might be
termed a heroic age of Lesbianism. Back in the nineteenth century
when Queen Victoria reputedly denied the existence of
lesbianism, it flourished in the brothels of Paris, if we are to
believe the clandestine guide-books produced for English
speaking sex tourists to the City of Light. In 1930 Colette began
publishing a series of essays in the Parisian weekly Gringoire that
were eventually collected and published in book form under the
title of The Pure and the Impure, in which she revealed the shadowy
life of well-healed lesbians in the early years of the century.
Though the initial run of articles was interrupted, apparently in response to negative responses,

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the very fact that such a well-known and respected author could publish such material showed

Double “47”, c. 1924. Oil on panel,

the profound change of attitudes towards homosexuality and lesbianism that had taken place

46 x 38 cm, Private Collection.

since the First World War. The war itself had much to do with this. When millions of young
men departed for the slaughter of the western Front, women were forced into new roles and

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many were released from domestic slavery. After the war there was no turning back. Changing

Alfred Wolmark, Double portrait.

roles were reflected in the changing appearance of women – bobbed hair and la ligne à la mode

Oil on canvas. Victor Arwas Gallery,

– boyish figures with flattened breasts and narrow hips. Throughout the western world popular

London.

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songs such as Masculine men and feminine women or Eh! Ah! Maria! T’est’y une fille ou bien un
gars? and Hannelore (with her pretty boys haircut and smoking jacket who has “a bridegroom
and a bride” in Claire Waldoff’s song) mocked or celebrated the new androgynous look. Berlin
was the capital in which traditional sexual mores and gender roles broke down most
spectacularly. According to Stefan Zweig “Berlin transformed itself into the Babel of the world.
Bars, amusement parks and pubs shot up like mushrooms – made up boys with artificial
waistlines promenaded along the Kurfurstendam – and not only the professionals. Every high
school pupil wanted to make some money and in the darkened bars one could see high public
officials and financiers courting drunken sailors without shame. Even the Rome of Suetonius
had not known orgies like Berlin’s Transvestite balls. Amid the general collapse of values, a kind
of insanity took hold of precisely those middle-class circles which had hitherto been
unshakable in their order. Young ladies proudly boasted that they were perverted. To be
suspected of virginity at the age of sixteen would have been considered a disgrace in every
school in Berlin.” If Berlin was notorious for its transvestite balls, Paris was undoubtedly the
lesbian capital of the world in the 1920s. The relative acceptance of lesbianism in inter-war
Paris allowed for the opening of well-known lesbian night spots such as Le Monocle and
sympathetic and even glamorous representations of lesbians in French movies such as
Symphonie Pathétique in 1928 and La Garçonne in 1936. This tolerance attracted to Paris
creative and unconventional women from all over the world. Gertrude Stein and Alice B.Toklas
and Nathalie Barney and Romaine Brooks, the best known Parisian lesbian couples had been
in the city from before the war and they were joined there in the 1920s by the novelist Djuna
Barnes, the journalist Janet Flanner, Sylvia Beach, proprietor of the famous English language
bookshop Shakespeare and Co. De Lempicka dismissed Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway
as “boring people who wanted to be what they were not. He wanted to be a woman and she
wanted to be a man.” She did attend the salon of Nathalie Barney and Romaine Brooks, but
with her frivolous and somewhat snobbish hedonism it is difficult to imagine de Lempicka
attending book readings at Adrienne Monnier’s La Maison des Amis des Livres or contributing
much to the feminist or lesbian intellectual life of Paris. Long before the term was invented, de
Lempicka might have been described as a “Lipstick lesbian.” However she did take her role as
a woman artist seriously enough to exhibit with the group FAM (Femmes Artistes Modernes)
in the 1930s.
De Lempicka was never reticent about her sexual interest in her own sex. A photograph of
her bedroom taken for publicity purposes in 1928 shows the portrait of the amazonian
Duchesse de La Salle looming over her bed and the head board is decorated with a design made
by de Lempicka herself showing two woman rapturously entwined with one another. The
message could not have been louder or clearer.
De Lempicka began having sexual relationships with women early in her marriage. From
1922, she embarked on an affair with Ira Perrot that survived several tempestuous years, despite
the multitude of de Lempicka’s infidelities with both sexes. Ira Perrot posed for the first picture

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that de Lempicka exhibited at the Salon d’Automne and again for another portrait towards the

Spring, 1930. Oil on panel,

end of their relationship in 1930. In this second portrait, the serpentine pose and the way de

41 x 33 cm, Private Collection.

Lempicka fills the whole canvas from top to bottom with the twisting body of her lover, creates a

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sense of intimacy and oppressive voluptuousness. The erotic mood is reinforced by the bouquet
of arum lilies clutched by the sitter. Like Georgia O’Keeffe, de Lempicka seems to have been
fascinated by the suggestive form of the flowers and painted arum lilies on several occasions.
De Lempicka painted two portraits of well-known lesbians – the Duchesse de La Salle and
the model and night club singer Suzy Solidor. The Duchesse is shown as an amazone, powerful
and masculine. As she is painted against a cubist urban background, her black riding boots
suggest the dominatrix rather than healthy outdoor pursuits. The half-length nude portrait of
Suzy Solidor (also against a city background) is one of de Lempicka’s least problematic female
nudes with neither the eye-rolling pathos nor the oppressive passivity of most of the others. It
is also exceptional amongst her portraits in being quite strongly individualised and actually
looking like the sitter as we can tell from contemporary photographs. Every artist in Paris
wanted to paint the tall, blond Solidor. Amongst the 225 portraits of herself that she collected
were works by Foujita, Marie Laurencin, Kisling, Picabia and Van Dongen. De Lempicka’s
portrait dates from 1933, the year in which Suzy Solidor opened a smart cabaret called La Vie
Parisienne and launched herself as a successful singer. In the same year on May 10th, in a deep
voice that Cocteau characterised as coming straight from her sex, she recorded the song Ouvre
that has been dubbed “the secret hymn of sapphism.” In fact it is not so secret – “Open your
trembling knees, open your thighs, open everything that can be opened etc.”
With all the predatory boldness of a man, de Lempicka would pick up women who attracted
her in public places and proposition them to pose for her in the nude. One was propositioned
at the Théâtre de Paris and another in the Bois de Boulogne. De Lempicka recalled the latter
encounter ‘Suddenly I became aware of a woman walking some distance in front of me. As she
walks, everyone coming in the opposite direction stops and looks at her. They turn their heads
as she passes by. I am curious. What is so extraordinary that they are doing this? I walk very
quickly until I pass her, then I turn around and come back down the path in the opposite
direction then I see why everyone stops. She is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen –
huge black eyes, beautiful sensuous mouth, beautiful body. I stop her and say to her
“Mademoiselle, I’m a painter and I would like you to pose for me. Would you do this?” She
says “Yes. Why not?” And I say “Yes come. My car is here.” I took her home in my car, we had

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lunch and after lunch, in my studio, I said “undress, I want to paint you.” She undressed

The Convalescent, 1932.

without any shame. I said “Lay down on the sofa here.” She lay. Every position was art –

Oil on panel, 56 x 42 cm,

perfection and I started to paint her, and I painted her for over a year.’ One of the resulting

Private Collection.

canvases was La Belle Rafaela in Green - amongst the most potently erotic works of de Lempicka
in which the desire of the artist for the soft and curvaceous body of the model is palpable.
De Lempicka understood, like any purveyor of soft-core pornography, that partial nudity

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Maternit y, 1928.

can be more titillating than full nudity. She enjoyed painting her female models in expensive

Oil on panel, 35 x 27 cm,

underwear and, as in the case of the soulful Convalescent with a nipple provocatively exposed.

Private Collection.

There is also a very special erotic tension in de Lempicka’s portrayals of paired women. It
was a motif she treated frequently including The Orange Scarf (1927), The Bride (1928), Sharing

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Secrets (1928), The Green Turban (1929) The Girls (c.1930) and Spring (1930).

The pink Shirt I, c. 1925.

Double 47, a depiction of two heads apparently painted from the same model, suggests a pair
of rather masculine lesbians with short-cropped hair.

Oil on panel, 41 x 33 cm,
Private Collection.

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De Lempicka painted several canvases of passively and voluptuously posed groups of female
nudes that recall the very male view of harem fantasy pictures by nineteenth century artists
such as Ingres and Gérôme.
Perhaps the most disturbing paintings by de Lempicka to modern viewers are the portraits
she made of young girls including those of her daughter Kizette. Once again these evoke the
gaze of the male voyeur rather than that of a woman and a mother in the way they fixate on
the young girl’s legs and the often suggestive shadows between them. Kizette in Pink aged barely
eight or nine, eyes up the viewer with a gaze as knowing as that of Tamara herself in the photo
taken of her in Monte Carlo in 1911.
As she freely admitted, de Lempicka picked up men in the same masculine and predatory
way as she did women. “I refused myself nothing. I had always “Innamorato”, always. For
my inspiration, I liked to go out in the evenings and have a good-looking man tell me how
beautiful I am or how great an artist I am – and he touches my hand…I loved it! I needed
that. And I had many, many.” One of her rare male nudes, the superbly muscular figure, seen
from the back in Adam and Eve was painted from a young policeman picked up on the streets
of the Left Bank. ‘When I finished the sketch (of the female model) I went out into the
streets. This was the artist’s quarter. I had before me the vision of Adam and Eve. In the street
nearby I saw a gendarme, a policeman on his beat. He was young, he was handsome. I said
to him: “Monsieur, I am an artist and I need a model for my painting. Would you pose for
me?” And he said “Of course, Madame. I am myself an artist. At what time do you require
me?” We made arrangements. He came to my studio after work and said; “How shall I pose?”
“In the nude” He took off his things and folded them neatly on the chair, placing his big
revolver on the top. I set him on the podium and then called my model. “You are Adam and
here is your Eve” I said’.
It is worth pausing at this point to compare de Lempicka with two other woman painters
of the period with a specifically lesbian sensibility – the American Romaine Brooks and the
German Jewish Lotte Laserstein. Born into a wealthy American family in 1874, Romaine
Brooks had her first success with an exhibition at the prestigious Durand-Ruel Gallery
(associated with the rise of Impressionism) in Paris in 1910. Though there was only fifteen
years between Brooks’ debut and that of de Lempicka, the two events were separated by the
great watershed of the First World War and the artists seem to belong to two entirely different
generations and different worlds. There were, however many mutual friends and acquaintances
and de Lempicka was a frequent guest in the house of Romaine Brooks’ lover Nathalie Barney.
There was a certain piquancy in the fact that the militantly lesbian Brooks had succumbed to
the lecherous advances of the Italian poet Gabriele D’Annunzio (to the good humoured
resignation of Nathalie Barney) while the younger de Lempicka would later reject them. Brooks
and de Lempicka also had a mutual friend in Jean Cocteau who seemed to glide effortlessly
from one social and cultural world to another over a period of half a century.
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Both Brooks and de Lempicka possessed a solid basis of academic draughtsmanship and

The Dream, 1927. Oil on canvas,

both combined elements of realism with decorative stylisation. The roots of Brooks’ style are in

81 x 60 cm, Mrs. Àntonia

the Belle Époque and the Art Nouveau style rather than in the Jazz Age Moderne of de

Schulman’s Collection, New York.

Lempicka. The most striking comparison between these two women artists is provided by

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Irene and Her Sister, 1925.

Oil on canvas, 146 x 89 cm,
Irena Hochman Fine Art Ltd.,
New York.

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Brooks’ portrait of Una, Lady Troubridge and de Lempicka’s of the Marquise de La Salle – two
icons of 1920s lesbianism painted within a year of one another in 1924 and 1925. The chunky
Marquise and the pencil thin English lady are both in male attire and guiltless of the least hint
of feminine curves. The masculinity of the Marquise is suggested by her heavy black riding
boots while that of Lady Troubridge is conveyed by proxy through the pair of phallic
dachshunds that seem to emerge from her hips. Each surveys the viewer challengingly. Lady
Una sports that badge of inter-war lesbianism – a monocle.
Lotte Laserstein was an exact contemporary of de Lempicka, born in
1898 in a small East Prussian town now incorporated into Poland. In the
1920s Laserstein lived in Berlin, probably the only city more tolerant of
deviance from sexual norms than Paris. The trajectory of Laserstein’s
career went in tandem with that of de Lempicka – a period of brilliance
from the mid 1920s to 1933 – exile in the late 30s followed by neglect
and artistic decline and finally by belated discovery. This remarkable
artist had to wait a lot longer than de Lempicka for the recognition she
deserved. Happily she lived long enough to enjoy her rediscovery in the
1990s, dying at the advanced age of 94 in 1993.
Laserstein’s neo-realist style lacks the superficial trappings of
modernism adopted by de Lempicka. Her sober and immaculate
technique is closer to that of the nineteenth century realist Wilhelm Leibl
than any of her avant-garde Berlin contemporaries. Though the female
nude was one of her principal subjects, her work lacks the obvious
loucheness of de Lempicka and indeed of her fellow Berlin neo realists
Otto Dix and Christian Schad. Her modernity lies in a certain gritty
truthfulness, far from the glossy glamour of de Lempicka’s portraits and
in a sensibility apparent particularly in her depictions of women. Her
many images of paired women in which one depicts an emotional if not
necessarily a sexual affinity between them, make an intriguing
comparison with those of de Lempicka.
Both de Lempicka’s work and that of Laserstein can be seen in the
context of a widespread blossoming of more or less hard-edged neorealism in the 1920s, from the Socialist Realism in Stalin’s Russia to the
work of Grant Wood and Edward Hopper in the United States and taking
in such artists as Stanley Spencer, Dod Procter, Gluck, and Meredith
Frampton in Britain, the so-called Neue-Sachlichkeit painters Otto Dix
and Christian Schad in Berlin, the Novecento Group, Felice Casorati,
Piero Marussig, Ubaldo Oppo in Italy, Josep Togores, Joaquim Sunyer,
Francesc d’Assis Gali, Feliu Elia, Francesc Domingo in Spain and Frida Kahlo and Diego
Riviera in Mexico.
The connotations and meanings of this neo-realism vary from place to place and from artist
to artist, but there are often striking visual parallels. This is perhaps not so much a question of

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mutual influences and common sources as of Zeitgeist – the spirit of the time.

Lotte Laserstein, Two women.

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The smooth hard-edged technique and the combination of abstraction and detailed
attention to accessories in Stanley Spencer’s portraits such as The Sisters of c.1940 are strongly
reminiscent of some of de Lempicka’s female portraits. But his combination of provincial
homeliness and profound spirituality is light years from de
Lempicka’s urban sophistication.
Dod Procter’s Morning which was received with enthusiasm
when it was exhibited in 1926 makes a striking comparison with de
Lempicka’s The Pink Tunic painted the following year. The poses of
the reclining girls seen from above, are almost identical in reverse.
In each case we are brought close to the model whose body almost
fills the canvas from end to end. Each wears a slip that provocatively
exposes the legs and hugs and moulds the torso. The eroticism so
discreetly hinted at by Dod Procter is more blatantly expressed by
de Lempicka, whose model sports a fashionable hair style, rouged
lips and a luxurious and gaudily coloured silk slip that invites the
touch of the viewer. Procter’s model whose eyes are closed might
actually be asleep and is apparently unaware of the viewer, whereas
de Lempicka’s model stares blankly and passively out of the picture.
The icy, marmoreal perfection of Meredith Frampton’s portraits
offer an Anglo-Saxon virginal version of the Neo-Realist style that
entirely lacks the chic and erotic charge of de Lempicka’s work. The
nearest we find to de Lempicka’s perverse sensuality on the
opposite side of the channel is in the portraits of the lesbian painter
Gluck who defiantly depicted herself and her lover with
androgynously close-cropped hair in a double profile portrait
entitled medallion.
There was of course no lack of interest in the variables of human
sexuality in the work of de Lempicka’s contemporaries in Berlin
who are usually gathered under the label of Neue Sachlichkeit, but
here there is an element of social criticism and a fascination with
ugliness that would have been very alien to de Lempicka. Otto Dix’s
1925 portrait of the bi-sexual dancer Anita Berber goes far beyond
de Lempicka’s Nina de Herrera in its caricatured harshness.
Christian Schad, who like so many artists of this generation and
type (including de Lempicka herself) produced work of great power
and conviction for the short period (c1927-1933) that he was in
tune with the times, was probably the Berlin artist closest to de
Lempicka. Despite the exquisite technique and the aesthetic beauty
of his work though, Schad too was willing to confront and depict
aspects of reality from which the elegant Tara would certainly have turned away in disgust. The
recording of red blood vessels in the whites of eyes not to mention scars and deformities would
have been too much reality for her.

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Otto Dix, Portrait of the Dancer Anita
Berber, 1925. Tempera and oil on

panel, 120 x 65 cm,
Otto Dix Stiftung, Vaduz.
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Portrait of Romana de La Salle, 1928.

Oil on canvas, 162 x 97 cm,
Private Collection.

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On the other side of the Atlantic, it was perhaps Georgia O’Keeffe who invites the most
interesting comparisons with de Lempicka, both because of her methods of decorative
abstraction and decoratively diluted cubism and because of her preoccupation with two motifs
dear to de Lempicka – skyscrapers and lilies. O’Keeffe began to exhibit her stylised depictions
of New York skyscrapers in 1926, three years ahead of de Lempicka’s adoption of the New York
townscape as an ubiquitous backdrop to her portraits. It is quite likely that de Lempicka would
have come into contact with the work of the much praised and admired O’Keeffe during her
New York sojourn of 1929 to 1930. She would certainly have been intrigued too by the way
that O’Keefe used the interiors of flowers to suggest the female sex.
De Lempicka first exhibited at the prestigious Salon d’Automne in 1922 a mere two years
after she had enrolled with Maurice Denis at the Academie Ranson and
from 1923 she exhibited regularly at the Salon des Independents which in
the past had shown such great masters as Georges Seurat and Henri
Rousseau. Her breakthrough came in 1925 with a one woman show at the
Bottega di Poesia in Milan. De Lempicka’s timing was perfect. 1925 saw
the triumph of the Art Deco style at the great exhibition of decorative arts
in Paris. This show marked not only the highpoint of the style but also the
moment of transition from the earlier more florid and heavily decorated
version of the style to the sleeker more streamlined version of the style
that flourished until the Second World War. Though she was in fact
exhibiting elsewhere at the time, de Lempicka will forever be associated
with the moment of the 1925 Paris exhibition. For the best part of a
decade she rode the crest of a wave as perhaps the most representative
painter of the later version of the Art Deco style.
The name Art Deco derives from a contraction of the French exhibition
title Exposition des Arts Decoratives, though it was not coined until many
years later and did not come into common usage until the publication of
Bevis Hillier’s book Art Deco of the twenties and thirties in 1968. As with
many earlier styles (notably the sixteenth century style of mannerism)
there has been intense debate over how to define the style. Many differing
and conflicting definitions have been offered and doubts have even been
expressed as to whether it was a coherent style at all. As a stylistic term
invented for architecture and the decorative arts, it may be questioned whether it is appropriate
to apply it to painting (though when Edward Lucie-Smith wrote a book entitled Art Deco

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painting, it was inevitable that one of de Lempicka’s paintings should be used for the cover

Arums, c. 1931. Oil on panel,

illustration). In an article entitled defining Art Deco published in 1982, Martin Greif wrote “I

92 x 60 cm, James and Patricia

suspect that the term Art Deco should really be Art Decos (accent on the plural), each of which

Cayne’s Collection.

(if we take the trouble to observe them carefully) can be separated from the others.” De
Lempicka’s art is not representative of all these different Art Decos. She seems for example to

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have been little interested in all the various strains of non-European influences that permeated

Georgia O’Keeffe, Black Iris III, 1926.

the style. She was immune to the Egyptomania that followed the discovery of Tutankhamun’s

Oil on canvas, 91.4 x 75.9 cm.

tomb in 1923, the Chinese Art Deco found in cinemas, and more surprisingly perhaps her art

Metropolitan Muuseum of Art.

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shows no trace of the craze for everything African and Afro-American that swept Paris
following the sensational arrival of Josephine Baker and the Revue Nègre in 1925 (an event as
seminal in its way as the arrival of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes sixteen years earlier).
Apart from the headboard of her bed adorned with lesbian lovers frolicking in a stylised
jungle, there is little trace either in her work or in the design of her apartment of the kind of
geometricised floral decoration so evident in the 1925 Paris exhibition. Nevertheless de
Lempicka’s art perfectly fulfils most of the criteria listed by Charlotte and Tim Benton in their
attempt at an inclusive definition of the Art Deco style in their introduction to the catalogue of
the Art Deco exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2003. “We can try to identify
some of the features that link the apparently antithetical works ascribed to Art Deco. They
often refer to historic styles, whether western or non-western, but are not literally dependent
on them, though they are often respectful of them. They are often influenced by avant-garde
art and design yet, unlike these, they make no claim to being disinterested and are, in fact,
thoroughly contingent and engaged with the commercial world. But whether inspired by
traditional or by avant-garde sources, they have a tendency to simplified form and an absence
of three-dimensional, applied ornament. They are “decorative” even when they do not employ
ornament; and they frequently stress “surface” values or effects. They are often novel or
innovative – but not radical or revolutionary. They frequently employ new technologies even
when their forms and methods also reference tradition. They often refer, overtly or
symbolically, to “modern” themes, such as youth, liberated sexuality and aspects of
contemporary mechanical culture, through a recurrent visual repertoire of frozen fountains,
sunbursts, electrification, mechanisation and transportation.”
The commercialism of de Lempicka’s work is apparent in its striking similarity with fashion
illustration. Like de Lempicka, the fashion illustrators of the twenties and early thirties
absorbed elements from avant-garde art movements, notably cubism and futurism, to create a
style that was modern and at the same time decorative and accessible to a wider public. In 1908
when the great Parisian couturier Paul Poiret initiated one of the most radical revolutions in
the history of women’s fashion by jettisoning the upholstered and heavily corseted look of the
Belle Epoque and adopting a more svelte and streamlined look for women, he also launched a
golden age of fashion illustration by commissioning Paul Iribe to illustrate an album entitled
Les Robes de Paul Poiret. Iribe’s illustrations with their firm contours and flat bright colours
reminiscent of Japanese woodblock prints were as revolutionary as Poiret’s designs. In one fell
swoop they swept away the dry and factual style of nineteenth century fashion illustration and
opened up the way for nearly two decades of extraordinarily inventive and exciting fashion
illustrations in such periodicals as the Gazette du Bon Ton, Modes et Manières d’aujourd’hui,
Journal des Dames et des Modes, Luxe de Paris, Art Goût Beauté, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Die
Dame. Amongst the artists who contributed to this explosion of creativity were Georges
Lepape, André Marty, Charles Martin, Benito, Georges Barbier, Pierre Brissand, Helen Dryden,

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Harriet Meserole and Ernst Dryden. These artists were thieving magpies, always in search of

The Musician, 1929.

novelty and casting their eyes over the latest innovations of the avant-garde. We find, often

Oil on canvas, 116 x 73 cm,

blended together, the shocking colours of the fauves, the angularity and fragmented

Barry Friedman Ltd., New York.

perspectives of the cubists, the dynamic lines of the futurists, the streamlined abstraction of

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Brancusi and the unexpected juxtapositions and dream logic of the surrealists. In the pages of
Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar we find many of the same motifs that we see in the paintings of de
Lempicka - the abstracted, metallic forms and surfaces, the Manhatten back-drops and
naturally the fashionable clothes and accessories. As well as stealing from the fine artists, the
fashion magazines sometimes invited them to design covers too. Leon Bakst, Marie Laurencin,
Pavel Tchelitchew, Raoul Dufy, Pierre Roy and Salvador Dali all contributed to Vogue. So
happily does de Lempicka’s art fit in with the world of fashion magazines that it seems
surprising that she designed covers for neither the American nor the French versions of Vogue.
However she was invited to create several cover designs for the leading German fashion
magazine Die Dame. Amongst these was the 1925 Bugatti self-portrait that has become her
most famous and frequently reproduced image.
With an average circulation of 60,000 and plentiful colour illustrations of the highest
possible quality, Die Dame was a luxurious and prestigious publication. Not devoted
exclusively to fashion, Die Dame had pretensions to high culture and was really a hybrid art,
literary and fashion magazine. The work of such serious writers as André Maurois, Colette
and Stefan Zweig was serialised and in some cases first published in the magazine. Die Dame
was rather more daring than Vogue in the kind of modern artists that it was prepared to
employ or publicise. The anarchistic Dada collagist Hanna Höch was a surprising choice for
one cover. There were articles on Max Pechstein and George Grosz. Whereas the artists
patronised by Vogue all had a veneer of fashionable sophistication, the primitivism of Max
Pechstein and the Grosz’s excoriating images of Berlin low life were far removed from the
world of Haute Couture.
Probably the most frequently employed illustrator for the pages and covers of Die Dame
between 1926 and 1933 was the Austrian born and Paris based artist Ernst Dryden. One cannot
help wondering if Dryden had something to do with the choice of the equally Paris based de
Lempicka for covers for the German magazine. There are certainly striking parallels between
the work of Dryden and de Lempicka. In 1930 for example, Dryden produced a cover design
showing an elegant woman clutching a small dog and standing in front of a Bugatti. His cover

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for November 1928 showing a languid beauty in the middle of a vast circle of sports cars all

Portrait of Mrs. M., 1932.

pointed lustfully towards her, is an image of the Jazz Age Woman to match that of Tamara’s

Oil on canvas, 100 x 65 cm,

Bugatti self-portrait.

Private Collection.

The celebrity that Tamara’s covers for Die Dame brought her in Germany proved useful in
1934 when she carelessly travelled to Berlin without the requisite papers. In her own words;-

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‘Hitler was not long in power, but already the streets were filled with Nazi uniforms and the

Portrait of the Marquis d’Af f lito

people were afraid. At lunch in the hotel my friend says to me, “I am so happy to see you, but

(On a Staircase), 1925.

how did you get a permit to come?” And I say; “Permit, what permit?” She becomes terribly

Oil on canvas, 116 x 73 cm,

upset. “This is terrible,” she says. “We must go to the police at once.” We leave the hotel. We

Private Collection.

go to the police. They are rude. They take away my passport. They ask my friend many
questions. Finally they take me to the chief authority. He is sitting behind a big desk in a big

Page 75

room. He is wearing the Nazi uniform and the red band on his arm. He had my papers. He

Portrait of Marquis Sommi, 1925.

looks at them and frowns. “Madame Lempicka, you are a French citizen?” “Yes I am.” “And

Oil on canvas, 100 x 73 cm,

you live in Paris?” “Yes I do.” “And why do you stop in Berlin with no permit?” He looks at

Private Collection.

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me. I am afraid, but I do not show this. I tell him. He looks again at my papers, then he asks,
“Are you the same Mme Lempicka who paints the covers of Die Dame? “Yes, I am.” “Ah,” he
says, coming around the desk to shake my hand. “I am so pleased to meet you. My wife is
most fond of your paintings; in fact, we have collected all your covers from the magazine. I
will let you pay the fine, the lightest punishment, and you may go. But you must never come
back to Germany.”
De Lempicka’s commissioned portraits all date from the relatively short period between her
triumphant 1925 exhibition in Milan and 1933 when the Depression began to bite in France
and changes in economic circumstances as well as changes in taste which caused the flow of
commissions to dry up. Collectively these commissioned portraits form a portrait of a class and
period that is perhaps de Lempicka’s greatest achievement. By and large de Lempicka paints
men more as individuals, however glamorised, and women more as types. There was nothing
new in this. Most professional portraitists have been men and male artists have tended to relate
to their male sitters on a more human level while objectifying their female sitters. Lely, Kneller,
Reynolds and Ingres are all examples of artists whose male portraits are far more sharply
characterised than their female ones. Though Ingres adored painting women, he often seems
far more interested in what they are wearing than in what they are thinking. From his famous
trio of portraits of the Riviere family, we would certainly recognise Monsieur Riviere from
across a crowded room whereas Madame and Mademoiselle Riviere might stand out in a chorus
line of lovely women by their strange anatomical deformities but not by their faces. With the
exception of André Gide and possibly her architect brother in-law Pierre de Montaut, none of
de Lempicka’s male sitters are artists or intellectuals. Many have titles. The handsome Count
Vettor Marcello painted with casual open necked shirt in front of a yacht is the perfect image
of the playboy. Though the Marquess Sommi wrote music and mixed in avant-garde artistic
circles we cannot believe that the role in society of this beautiful man with his slicked back hair,
manicured eyebrows, padded shoulders and emerald signet ring, was anything other than
ornamental. De Lempicka’s male portraits can seem critical or even faintly mocking of their
subjects, the portrait of the notoriously decadent Grand Duke Gabriel Constantinovitch verges
upon the caricatural with his arrogant expression and a uniform that looks like a cast-off from
a Ruritanian operetta production. Perhaps the most complex and telling of all her male
portraits is that of her husband Tadeusz de Lempicki painted in 1928. Humiliated beyond
endurance by Tamara’s flagrant infidelities, as well no doubt by her social and artistic successes,
de Lempicka announced that he was leaving his wife for another woman while this portrait was
being painted. De Lempicka captures an expression of shiftiness and wary suspicion on the face
of this handsome man whom she had once loved but no longer respected. Furious at being
deserted for another woman, de Lempicka left the right hand unfinished and exhibited the
picture under the ambiguous title Portrait d’homme inachevé.
The wariness of de Lempicki contrasts with the impression of confident dynamism made by

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Dr. Boucard in the portrait he commissioned in 1928. The wealthy doctor, inventor of the

Portrait of Count Vettor Marcello,

patent medicine lactéol, paid handsomely for the portraits of himself, his wife and his daughter

c. 1933. Oil on panel, 35 x 27 cm,

Arlette. His investment paid off in the striking portrait that immortalises him as a scientist

Private Collection.

dandy with white coat and a pearl tie pin. His dynamism is suggested by his coiled pose and

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also by the angular planes of the background that are reminiscent of an expressionist movie.
Altogether Dr. Boucard looks like an actor playing the part of a brilliant doctor in a film. The
gleaming microscope and test tube are used like the attributes in a Renaissance portrait to
intimate his scientific interests.
A particularly sympathetic portrait of another professional man is that of de Lempicka’s
brother-in-law Pierre de Montaut. De Lempicka makes a feature of his glasses and the way the
thick glass distorts the outline of his cheek. Pierre de Montaut was a modernist architect. For
once the urban backdrop is not made up of generalised cubes but is a recognisable depiction
of the buildings on the rue Mallet-Stevens, a showpiece of modern design by and named after
the architect who designed the apartment block in which de Lempicka herself lived.
The commissions for de Lempicka’s female portraits usually came from their wealthy
husbands. What she offers is a series of spectacular images of “trophy” wives. The first of these
was Mrs. Rufus Bush. In the spring of 1929 Rufus Bush, whose family owned the Bush Terminal
in New York, turned up at de Lempicka’s studio with a request to paint his fiancée. Impressed
with the beauty of the girl and with the young man’s air of wealth, de Lempicka agreed to
follow the couple to New York for sittings, having quadrupled her original asking price.
Travelling on the luxury liner Paris (surely the perfect setting for this artist who was the living
embodiment of Art Deco) de Lempicka arrived in New York in September 1929. Like so many
visitors to New York in this period de Lempicka instantly fell in love with New York’s skyline,
which like countless other tourists and émigrés she would have first seen from the decks of the
approaching liner. From this moment a stylised version of Manhattan becomes the standard
backdrop to her portraits, even those painted in Paris, when she wanted to give her sitters an
air of modernity and urban sophistication. Mrs Bush is shown against just such a background
in a simple red tailored jacket and black skirt picked out with much care by de Lempicka
herself. She is coltishly androgynous – more garconne than amazone and not obviously suited
to the role of “trophy wife.” In fact the marriage was of very short duration and the portrait
disappeared from view until after the revival of de Lempicka’s reputation.
By contrast with Mrs Bush, Mrs. Alan Bott looks every inch the luxury wife. Her height is
emphasised by the vertical format of the canvas and the skyscrapers behind her. Her body

Page 78

forms a graceful curve from top left to bottom right of the canvas with the top of her head and

Wide Brimmed Hat, 1933.

elegantly shoed left foot cut off at top and bottom. She provocatively lifts the hem of her skirt

Oil on panel, 46 x 38 cm,

to expose her knees. So flimsy and transparent is her lacy dress, under which she appears to

Private Collection.

wear no underwear that she need not have bothered as every detail of her anatomy from her
nipples to her thighs is clearly visible. The exquisite but minimal dress contrasts piquantly with

Page 80

the chunky luxuriousness of the Cartier style diamond and emerald bracelet and the

High Summer, 1928.

sumptuous fur collared and silk lined coat that she trails negligently beneath her. The “jungle

Oil on panel, 35 x 27 cm,

red” of her painted fingernails and lurid lips and the bruised languor of her eyes give her a

Private Collection.

sinister allure. Despite her tender years she looks as if she has lived for centuries.
It was not until after her delayed return from New York that de Lempicka was able to fulfil

Page 81

her commission from Dr. Boucard by painting his wife. The Juno-esque Madame Boucard is

The Straw Hat, 1930.

older than most of de Lempicka’s other female portraits but is just a more mature version of the

Oil on panel, 35 x 27 cm,

luxury wife. The Parisian Madame Boucard is given the generic New York backdrop. Her

Private collection.

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serpentine pose spirals from bottom left to close to the top of the picture. She seems to have
shopped at the same luxury stores as Mrs. Bott, and though, as is appropriate to her age, her
dress is somewhat more discreet, her cone-like breasts and erect nipples project clearly through
the metallic sheen of her white dress.
The first of the Boucard family portraits was in fact that of the daughter Arlette, painted in
1928. The adolescent girl is shown reclining and fills the long horizontal canvas from end to
end, with her elbow cut off at one end and her feet at the other. In the background we see the
harbour of Cagnes with Dr. Boucard’s yacht Lactéol (named after the patent medicine from
which he made his fortune). The name Lactéol is picked out in white against the dark hull of
the ship. The seemingly unpopulated harbour town looks oddly gloomy and ominous. It is
strikingly similar to the harbour town in the background of the portrait of Count Vettor
Marcello painted several years later, suggesting that the backgrounds of de Lempicka’s portraits
are often interchangeable. Despite her youth Arlette appears as ageless and as enigmatic as the
sphinx. As is often the case with de Lempicka’s female portraits and nudes, she seems
preoccupied with the knees and the rather suggestive shadows between them (one thinks of
Suzy Solidor’s urgent and throbbing cry “Ouvre tes genoux tremblantes”). Perhaps young
Arlette took Tamara’s fancy. She appears four years later in the superb Arlette Boucard with
Arums in a framed glamorous soft focus black and white photograph resting on a glass table
top. We know that de Lempicka possessed this photograph as it is visible in a photograph of
her studio. There also seems to be some erotic meaning in the suggestively convoluted forms
of the arum lilies, one of which almost seems to grow out of Arlette Boucard’s head. The lilies,
taken to the edge of the canvas reach out towards the viewer, their serpentine stalks fractured
by the transparent glass vase that seems to slide down the tilted table-top. This picture is yet
another celebration of de Lempicka’s love of glossy surfaces and transparent materials.
Amongst the last commissioned portraits of de Lempicka’s Art Deco phase is the alarming
1933 Portrait of Miss Poum Rachou. De Lempicka takes a low viewpoint and fills the narrow
vertical canvas from top to bottom with the little girl’s figure, making her loom large, rather as
the Hülsenbeck children do in Philip Otto Runge’s famous portrait of them. This is certainly no
sentimental image of fragile childhood. Miss Poum Rachou’s metallic locks, icily unfocussed
eyes, rouged lips and her exposed legs make her seem disturbingly adult and sexual, despite
the rather fierce looking teddy that she clutches.
Amongst de Lempicka’s commissioned portraits of women, that of the Spanish dancer Nana
de Herrera is exceptional in that it was commissioned not by a husband but by a lover. Nana
de Herrera’s carnivorously vampish sensuality is exaggerated to the point of parody. De
Lempicka makes the celebrated dancer look like a superannuated, provincial Carmen. The
element of cruelty in this characterisation seems all the more pointed when one knows that
Nana de Herrera’s lover was Baron Kuffner who dropped Nana for Tamara and became Tamara
de Lempicka’s second husband. No doubt a certain sense of rivalry with a former mistress

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accounts for the bitchiness of de Lempicka’s description of how she painted the portrait – “I

Portrait of Miss Poum Rachou, 1933.

told him (Kuffner) that I had heard of her and that she must be very beautiful, if she was a

Oil on canvas, 92 x 46 cm,

dancer. He said “I will call her and tell her to come to see you.” I was very surprised. When she

Private Collection.

came to my studio, she was not chic. I thought “Oh no. I don’t want to paint her. I cannot

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believe that’s the famous Nana de Herrera. Well,” I thought “let’s try.” So, in my studio, I said
“sit down.” And I said, “take this off.” So she takes it off. I don’t like it. “The hair” I said “how
do you have your hair done?” “Oh,” she said, “just with a flower.” “So where is the flower?”
Finally, I took everything off, until she was nude. Then I added lace here, there. I said “cover
up a little bit here, here, and here. As long as she was dressed it was impossible. So ugly. I
couldn’t believe it. And I thought, “this man has very bad taste.” But when she was nude, then
she was a little more interesting. Still, as long as she sat there, she was nobody. And I said, “No,
no, no.” And I was about to give up this portrait, not do it at all, until I said, “when you dance,
how do you look?” And she did this expression. And I said, “that’s alright,” and then I painted
her.” One cannot but feel sorry for poor Nana de Herrera who not only lost her man but also
had to endure such humiliating treatment at the hands of the woman who took him.
The portraits of Marjorie Ferry and of Mrs. M, both dating from 1932, are remarkable for the
way the hands are posed with self-conscious and mannered elegance as though to display the
scarlet nail varnish and enormous pearl rings. Hands have always presented a problem to
portraitists. The depiction of hands cruelly exposes weaknesses in draughtsmanship as we see
in the portraits of Gainsborough and Reynolds and even in a few early portraits by Rembrandt.
Many successful portraitists have developed strategies and formulae for dealing with the
problem of hands. Van Dyck, for example would have us believe that the entire English
aristocracy possessed sensitive, limp-wristed hands with long tapering fingers they tended to
hold in splayed poses. John Singer Sargent, who earned the sobriquet of the Van Dyck of Tite St,
also resorted to the splayed finger poses when he did not avoid the problem altogether by hiding
or blurring the hands. De Lempicka paints hands that look as though constructed from
articulated metal parts and that also tend to follow a certain formula. Hands will be sharply bent
or pulled back at the wrist. More often than not, her female sitters will separate or crook the
little finger, creating an effect of mannered elegance. We see the same care in posing her hands
in the photographs of Tamara herself – both in the carefully staged glamour photographs and in
the photographs of Tamara in everyday life. Whether dressed or nude, de Lempicka’s women
have perfectly manicured fingernails painted in the kind of gaudy, carnivorous “Jungle red” nail
polish that played such a pivotal role in the plot of George Cukor’s 1939 movie The Women.
Mrs. M’s white dress and the sheet with which Marjorie Ferry covers her nudity seem to be
cut from the same material. In both cases it is crumpled into complex folds. De Lempicka was
well aware of the role that drapery had played in western art since the Renaissance or indeed
since classical Greece. Though she enjoys painting female flesh through lace and transparent
materials and the sheen on silks and satins, de Lempicka does not greatly differentiate between
the textures of different fabrics. In this she follows the academic doctrines of Sir Joshua
Reynolds who maintained in his Discourses that it was the mark of higher art to generalise
rather to specify the precise qualities of materials. Like the masters of the Renaissance and the
Baroque, de Lempicka often used drapery to fill space and for compositional purposes. Mrs.
M.’s blue stole blooms like a flower behind her left shoulder to fill the upper right corner of her

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portrait. The complex folds of Ira Perrot’s orange stole, billowing out behind her, as though

Kizette in Pink, c. 1926.

lifted like Marilyn Munroe’s skirts in Seven Year Itch by the updraft of an air vent, look as

Oil on canvas, 116 x 73 cm,

though they have been drawn from a length of material carefully arranged on the floor.

Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes.

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In each case these brightly coloured scarves offer a strong accent of pure unmodulated
colour. De Lempicka was never a particularly subtle or expressive colourist. In her best period,
she uses a relatively limited range of bright, clear colours with the crude and simple
effectiveness of a poster designer. A bright pure red is used for lips and fingernails. Brick red
and a strong pure blue are often used for fabrics in contrast with whites or creams. An acidic
“poison” green, sometimes shaded to blue is also used by de Lempicka to great effect. There is
never any attempt to analyse or explore the colour of shadows that are painted quite simply
brown or black.
Probably the grandest of de Lempicka’s commissions during her short heyday as a
fashionable portraitist were from Queen Elizabeth of Greece, and the recently deposed King
Alfonso of Spain. Though France was the first European country to get rid of its monarchy and
in bloody fashion, it was the playground of international royalty and the first port of call for
deposed or abdicated monarchs such as Edward VIII of Britain who arrived there on his
honeymoon with Wallis Simpson. De Lempicka got on well with Alfonso, though she found his
constant talking and lack of concentration rather tiresome during sittings and peremptorily
ordered him to keep quiet. She liked to recall that when the ex-King protested “we are not
accustomed to being ad