Tamara de Lempicka: Biography, Paintings & Quotes

Instructor: Summer Stewart

Summer has taught creative writing and sciences at the college level. She holds an MFA in Creative writing and a B.A.S. in English and Nutrition

Polish artist Tamara de Lempicka changed the way female nudes were painted in the twentieth century. In this lesson, we learn about Tamara de Lempicka's history and her best pieces.

Meet Tamara de Lempicka

Portrait of Tamara de Lempicka

Tamara de Lempicka said, ''My goal is never to copy. Create a new style, clear luminous colors and feel the elegance of the models.'' She was a Polish artist during the twentieth century, specifically in between 1920-1940. Lempicka worked during the Art Deco movement and painted nudes of women. Her openness about sexuality and careful attention to the female body made her a powerful force for women's equality in society and the arts. This lesson covers Tamara de Lempicka's life and her work.


Early Days

Born in Warsaw on May 16, 1898, Tamara de Lempicka's original name was Maria Gorska. Her interest in portraits began as a young girl when her mother had her portrait painted by a local artist. She hated the result so much that she began drawing portraits of other people in the way she felt they should be captured on canvas.

At age 11, after being sent to boarding school and hating it, her grandma traveled with her abroad. In Italy, she got an on-the-road art education. Her mother sent her back to boarding school in Switzerland. Instead of returning to Warsaw for the summers, she traveled to St. Petersburg where her aunt lived, and in 1915, she met Tadeusz Lempicki. They fell in love; a year later, they married. The Russian Revolution forced them to flee from their home, and they moved to Paris, which was a blessing in disguise. There, she began painting to make money and this launched her career.

Her Career Flourishes

Lempicka Portrait

In Paris, Lempicka began painting portraits of her young daughter, Kizette. Lempicka didn't want to live off the wealth of her parents, believing that making her own way was important. She said, ''There are no miracles, there is only what you make.'' At the 1925 International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts, Lempicka exhibited her work at the Salon des Tuileries and the Salon des Femmes Peintres and she was an instant success.

From there, she began displaying her work at major exhibitions across Europe. In Bordeaux, France at the Exposition Internationale des Beaux Arts in 1927, she was awarded first prize for Kizette on the Balcony. By 1928, Lempicka had divorced her husband, largely due to her success. After their separation, Lempicka engaged in multiple love affairs with both men and women.

Art Deco

Tamara de Lempicka painted in the Art Deco style. Art Deco is characterized by streamlined shapes, elongated bodies, female nudes, and subtle lighting. Unlike other Art Deco painters who painted large groups of people, Lempicka made a name for herself by painting just one or two at a time. Her rendition of female nudes changed the way females were painted because she refused to create paintings intended for male audiences; the women weren't sprawled out and exposed to be ogled, they were painted for men and women to view with integrity. She believed that painters like her lived ''in the margins of society, and the rules of normal society don't apply to those who live on the fringe.''

Lempicka began receiving multiple commissions from wealthy patrons. She painted Tamara in a Green Bugatti for Die Dame, a high-end German fashion magazine in 1929. Many consider this one her of best pieces. During this time, Lempicka was the mistress of Baron Raoul Kuffner. However, after his wife died, they married in 1934.

The 1930s proved to be a successful decade for Lempicka. She painted dozens of portraits, including portraits of Mrs. Allan Bott, Arlette Boucard, Count Vettor Marcello, and Marjorie Ferry, all of whom were in the aristocracy. Of her work, she told her daughter Kizette, ''I was the first woman to make clear paintings.'' She believed this was why galleries chose to prominently display her work.

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