Tamara De Lempicka is best known for the erotic and seductive Art Deco-styled portraits of Parisian upper class women in idealized fashion. Being a woman of great beauty and unmatchable talent made her a remarkable icon of the 1920's.
She was born Maria Gorska in 1898 in Poland to wealthy parents who divorced in 1912. By fourteen, she was attending school in Lausanne, Switzerland, where she received a well-rounded education as a result of her social status. She set her sights on Taduesz Lempicki, and two years later, the couple were married in St. Petersburg when she was just sixteen.
The Lempickis fled to Paris, France, where Maria changed her name to Tamara De Lempicka. She gave birth to their only daughter Kizette, and attended classes at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, where she studied under Maurice Denis and André Lhote. By 1923, she was showing her work at major salons. The decorative sensuality and glorification of the female form made her fashionable among contemporary collectors. The sale of her paintings enabled her to live the lavish lifestyle she was accustomed to.
Tamara became a well-known portrait painter with a distinctive taste for Art Deco. She created portraits of celebrities and many of Eastern Europe’s exiled nobility with a bold use of color and shape that soon became her signature. Some of her popular paintings from the 1920’s include ‘Seated Nude’, ‘La Belle Rafaela in Green’, and Portrait of the Duchess de La Salle’.
During the Roaring '20s in Paris, Tamara De Lempicka rubbed elbows with people of high society including Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, and André Gide. Being married never stopped her from having a torrent of scandalous affairs with both men and women that eventually took a toll on her shaky marriage. Her husband abandoned her in 1927, and the union was disolved a year later. Tamara began an affair with Baron Raoul Kuffner and they married in 1933. With the threat of the Second World War, Raoul sold most of his assets in Hungary and they moved to the United States. An exhibition at the Paul Reinhart Gallery in Los Angeles gained her notoriety amongst celebrities in Hollywood. She became the favorite artist of the Hollywood elite. Her movie star good looks and great fashion sense often had people mistake her for Greta Garbo.
In 1960, Tamara De Lempicka changed her style to abstract art and began creating works with instruments including a spatula and palette knife. Baron Kuffner's death from a heart attack in 1962 prompted Tamara to move to Houston, Texas to be with her daughter Kizette and her family. That year, she exhibited at The Iolas Gallery in New York, but the critics were harsh and buyers were few, a realization that discouraged her from ever exhibiting again. However, she did not stop painting, but as her popularity continued to wane, she decided to put her work in storage.
In 1978, she moved to Mexico permanently, buying a grand house in Cuernavaca. Experiencing a fear of aging, she surrounded herself with young people. Tamara De Lempicka died in her sleep on March 18, 1980 in Mexico with Kizette at her side. Her last wish was that her ashes be spread out over the volcano Popocatepetl, an event carried out by her daughter. Today, her art is still sought by Hollywood celebrities including Jack Nicholson and Madonna who are big fans and collectors of her work.