Tamara Lempicka – an extravagant baroness of glamor

Pink tunic. Tamara Lempicka, 1927.
Pink tunic. Tamara Lempicka, 1927.

Tamara Lempicka (Tamara Łempicka; born May 16, 1898 – died March 18, 1980), she is Maria (Tamara Rosalia) Gurvich-Gurska was a Polish and American artist who worked in the 20th century in the Art Deco style. Bright and bold Tamara Lempicka became one of the few women who made a significant fortune, painting to order. A talented painter, socialite and fan of outrageousness, she skillfully combined cubism, classicism and mannerism in her works. As a calculating manager, she skillfully calculated the requests of the public, thirsty for intrigue and scandal, and painted stunning portraits of women, arousing interest in her work with rumors about intimate relationships with models.

Maria Gurvich Gurskaya is the future millionaire artist Tamara de Lempicki. 1911.
Maria Gurvich Gurskaya is the future millionaire artist Tamara de Lempicki. 1911.

Biography

Tamara Lempicka so skillfully embellished some facts of her biography that they remain a mystery even for the most meticulous researchers of her creative life. It is reliably known that on May 16, 1898, a daughter, Maria, was born in the family of lawyer Boris Gurvich-Gursky and Malvina Dekler. It is assumed that this happened in Moscow, although the artist told everyone that her hometown was Warsaw. After the father left the family, the Polish grandmother Clementine took up the upbringing of the girl, spoiling her granddaughter in every possible way and taking her to rest in Europe.

Tamara Lempicka. Self portrait with daughter. 1925−26.
Tamara Lempicka. Self portrait with daughter. 1925−26.

Tamara Lempicka became interested in painting after a trip to Italy. In the first half of the 1910s. moved to a wealthy aunt in St. Petersburg, entered the Academy of Arts, went to theaters and attended high-society balls. At one of them, she met with the lawyer Tadeusz Lempicki, whom she married and gave birth to a daughter, Maria Christina (Kisetta).

In 1917, Tadeusz was arrested by the Cheka. Lempitska achieved the release of her husband from the dungeons, issued travel documents, took her relatives out of Russia and settled in Paris. In emigration, Tadeusz could not find a decent job and started drinking, and Tamara took care of the family. She decided to improve her drawing skills and enrolled as an apprentice first with Maurice Denis, and then with André Lhote. It was under the leadership of Lot, who promoted the renewal of art through new forms of experimental painting, that Tamara mastered the competent combination of progressive ways of depicting reality with the established academic traditions of drawing.

Portrait of the Duchess de la Salle. Tamara Lempicka, 1925.
Portrait of the Duchess de la Salle. Tamara Lempicka, 1925.
Portrait of Prince Eristoff. Tamara Lempicka, 1925.
Portrait of Prince Eristoff. Tamara Lempicka, 1925.

Tamara has developed her own style.

Lempicka’s style is easily recognizable – it is a bold cocktail of classicism and cubism depicting stately figures with regular lines, clear geometry, and a clean and lively palette. The portraits are made in a deliberately cold, but incredibly sensual style, with a huge dose of eroticism. Considering that there were an abundance of talented artists in creative Paris, the enterprising Tamara “promoted” her name with shocking. She attached a part of “de” to her surname, introduced herself as a Polish woman and made many useful acquaintances: she twisted novels right and left, both with men and women.

Tadeusz did not like the success and intrigues of his wife, and Tamara did not accept the eternal drunkenness and idleness of her husband. They parted ways, formalizing the divorce in 1928. By this time, in the wake of the emancipation and popularity of Art Deco, the artist became famous and rich, the doors of the best houses in Paris opened in front of her, and there were no customers to count. Tamara Lempicka often exhibits at that time, receives prizes and travels a lot.

Duchess de Valmy. Tamara Lempicka, 1924.
Duchess de Valmy. Tamara Lempicka, 1924.
Portrait of Grand Duke Gabriel. Tamara Lempicka, 1926.
Portrait of Grand Duke Gabriel. Tamara Lempicka, 1926.

And in 1934 he got married again.

Baron Küfner, fascinated by Lempicka, proposed to her and agreed to an ultimatum – a free marriage without jealousy scandals. As a result, they lived happily for 30 long years. When World War II broke out in Europe, the prudent Tamara persuaded her husband to sell all real estate and assets and move to America. In Los Angeles, everything had to start from scratch. Tamara made new acquaintances, attended social events, mastered surrealism and avant-garde. Public interest in Art Deco, with which the name of Tamara Lempitskaya was firmly associated, was fading away. The artist occasionally painted portraits to order, but her main income came from interior design. Meanwhile, the daughter grew up and got married, Küfner died of a heart attack, and Tamara settled with Kisetta to look after her grandchildren.

Tamara Lempicka at work.
Tamara Lempicka at work.
Artist Tamara Lempicka.
Artist Tamara Lempicka.

In the 1970s, society was reawakened by the love of Art Deco and Lempicka’s paintings. Collectors bought her works for big money, but the aging Tamara, having cooled to painting, left for Mexico, where eternal spring and new love awaited her in the person of Victor Contreras, a young Mexican sculptor. Tamara Lempicka left this world on March 18, 1980, as extravagantly as she lived in it: fulfilling the last will of her mother, her daughter scattered her ashes over the Popocatepetl volcano.

Artist Tamara Lempicka in an extravagant outfit.
Artist Tamara Lempicka in an extravagant outfit.
Tamara de Lempicka. Kisette on the Balcony.
Tamara de Lempicka. Kisette on the Balcony.
Kizette at first communion.
Kizette at first communion.
Tadeusz Lempicki (Portrait of a Man, unfinished). Tamara Lempicka, 1928.
Tadeusz Lempicki (Portrait of a Man, unfinished). Tamara Lempicka, 1928.
Portrait of Nana de Herrera. Tamara Lempicka, 1929.
Portrait of Nana de Herrera. Tamara Lempicka, 1929.
Self portrait in a green Bugatti. Tamara Lempicka, 1929.
Self portrait in a green Bugatti. Tamara Lempicka, 1929.
Tamara de Lempicka. Portrait of Mrs. Bush. 1929.
Tamara de Lempicka. Portrait of Mrs. Bush. 1929.
Idyll. Tamara Lempicka, 1931.
Idyll, 1931.
Portrait of Raoul Kufner.
Portrait of Raoul Kufner.
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