Wednesday, 04 December 2013

The Hot and the Dead – Tamara de Lempicka

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Tamara de Lempicka was well known for painting beautiful society personalities soaked in ennui, gazing longingly into the mid-distance, their luminous hues rendered boldly yet finely as if to say “I don’t give a stuff about anyone but myself”.

And that was just her self-portraits.

With a wealthy lawyer father and a posh socialite mother, Tamara de Lempicka was destined to be educated, cultured, comfortably well-off and irreversibly up herself. Born Maria Górska in Warsaw in 1898, Tamara spent her childhood bounced between her parents in Poland, her boarding school in Switzerland, her grandmother in Italy and her aunt in St Petersburg.

Unlike most teenagers, whose primary skills seem to be avoiding eye contact and omitting consonants, Tamara was accomplished enough in the social arts to convince Tadeusz Lempicki, a handsome but reckless lawyer, to marry her in 1916. Tadeusz was swayed by her confidence, by her sad, sad puppy eyes and by her considerable dowry. A daughter, Kizette, was born to the couple later that year.

The Russian Revolution, during which the Bolsheviks imprisoned Tadeusz, but later released him after some coaxing by his hot wife, brought the family to Paris in 1917.

Paris, Tamara found, made her art come out. She took to painting with ease, with enthusiasm, and with a considerable quotient of high wank. Suddenly “Lempicki” wasn’t an artsy enough surname and a single heterosexual relationship wasn’t satisfying enough. As Tamara developed a taste for a vast range of sexual partners, she also developed an artistic style known as “soft cubism”, which, I was surprised to discover, has nothing to do with cheese. It was around this period of her life that her eyebrows disappeared.

As de Lempicka’s fame grew, her regard for her family members diminished. Daughter Kizette spent most of her childhood at boarding school and her grandmother’s house; and husband Tadeusz spent his time getting increasingly bored with his wife. The couple separated in 1927 and divorced four years later.

De Lempicka’s paintings were bright, audacious, elegant and full of boobies. She was popular and prolific – while preparing for her first big exhibition in 1925, she worked at a rate of about one painting per week.

For the remainder of the 1920s and a fair slab of the ‘30s, Tamara spent her time painting, bonking anything that moved and expanding her social network to include celebrities, aristocrats and people who could be relied upon to tell her she was beautiful.

Tamara’s second husband came in the form of Baron Raoul Kuffner von Diószeg, her patron and lover. Five years after they married in 1934, the couple moved to the United States and settled in Beverly Hills, which was a comfortable sort of place for artsy-fartsy European people trying to avoid World War II.

De Lempicka painted shiny Hollywood people for a few years before moving to New York and eventually losing her popularity, which was no doubt someone else’s fault.

After her husband died of a heart attack in 1961 and an exhibition flopped in 1962, Tamara turned into a grump and eventually relocated to Mexico. Almost precisely at the time that Art Deco was enjoying a renaissance and her paintings were being rediscovered by a generation of art students with spiral perms, Tamara died in her sleep in 1980, presumably of old age and/or lack of attention.

Tamara de Lempicka’s legacy is celebrated by many people who know a lot about art, and collected by Madonna, who probably doesn’t.

Tamara de Lempick

Shelley Stocken

Shelley Stocken is a freelance writer when she’s not feeding, clothing and wiping family members.

Follow her on twitter @shellity