Tamara de Lempicka painted this portrait, “Jeune Fille en Vert,” between 1927-1930. It’s part of the collection of the Pompidou Center in Paris.
The artist was born to Polish-Russian aristocrats in 1899. Just before the Russian Revolution, she married a well-known lawyer/playboy. He was arrested during the Revolution. She managed to rescue him from prison and they made their way to Paris, where their money soon ran out. Tamara began painting as a way to support her family, which by this time included a daughter.
She developed a unique personal style perfectly suited to the Art Deco aesthetic of the Jazz Age. Her paintings showed the influence of Picasso’s Cubism, combined with Italian Old Masters, which she had been exposed to when she lived with her wealthy grandmother as a teenager in Italy. Soon Tamara was in great demand, charging large fees to paint society figures and even the crowned heads of Europe.
She was wild and difficult, though. She hobnobbed with the bohemian artist community in Paris, but at the same time conducted a frenetic social life in the highest social circles. It seems she never really fit in with either group. Her first marriage did not last, and she neglected her only child. She remarried and moved to the United States, where once again she was in demand for a time, painting portraits of movie stars and society figures.
Eventually, her work fell out of fashion and she retired from painting. In the 1980s, her work was in demand again. Now, her paintings once more command high prices.
A recent biography by Laura Claridge sounds like a very entertaining account of this colorful woman’s life. The title is “Tamara de Lempicka: A Life of Deco and Decadence.” I’m hoping it will soon be available as an eBook. Right now, it seems to be only available in hardcover and paperback, from Amazon. A review is at http://www.nytimes.com/books/99/10/24/reviews/991024.24vincent.html
Join me next time for more explorations into the art and history of Europe!