This is CR Muse, a series dedicated to the remembrance of important artists and idea-makers from our past who have shaped culture as we know it today. From traditional creators to those of conceptual thought, we celebrate these women known not only for their work but their confident, eccentric style as well.
Madonna is a fan. Allegedly, Jack Nicholson and Barbara Streisand are, too. With such illustrious champions, not to mention one of the most easily recognizable painting styles of the 20th century, you’d think Tamara de Lempicka would be a household name — someone on par with Picasso, Jackson Pollack, or any other game-changing modern artist.
“I live life in the margins of society, and the rules of normal society don’t apply to those who live on the fringe,” she has been quoted. Although looking at her life, most people wouldn’t necessarily describe her place as at the “margins.” At least not in her early years. In fact, she mostly lived a life in high society.
She was born in Poland in 1898 to a lawyer father and a socialite mother. At a young age she was sent to boarding school in Switzerland. A summer in Italy with her grandmother instilled a love of art in her, although it would be several years before she started studying painting herself. After her parents divorced she was sent to live in Russia with her aunt, whereupon she met her first husband, Tadeusz Lempicki. They were married when she was just 19.
When the Russian Revolution began, the couple fled to Paris. It was here that Lempicka began to paint and build a reputation for herself as an artist. In 1925, her work was displayed at Salon des Tuileries and the Salon des femmes peintres, which introduced her art to editors from around the world, including ones from Harper’s Bazaar.
It’s no wonder that Lempicka was able to find an audience in the 1920s — her oeuvre was emblematic of the decade in more ways than one. Not only was her work stylistically in line with Art Deco (the reigning aesthetic at the time), but the way she presented women mirrored the social changes that were happening. Women were cutting their hair short and flaunting a freer lifestyle than they ever had before, and Lempicka captured this strength through figures who had a sense of power in her paintings. Her portraits of women did not depict wilting flowers. They had a presence, even her nudes. Her most famous painting—a self-portrait, no less—encapsulates this. “Auto Portrait (Tamara in a Green Bugatti)” from 1929 shows the artist in charge behind the wheel; a woman in action. So on-the-nose was she for her time, the painting graced the cover of a fashion magazine.
At the onset of World War II, Lempicka fled again, this time heading for the United States. But as with many artists who exemplify a certain era, as tastes in art changed she found herself falling out of favor. Thankfully, Lempicka’s contribution to the art world is not lost on those within it. In 2004, one of her paintings (”Portrait of Mrs. Bush” from 1929) sold at auction for .5 million—almost three times the asking price. Meanwhile, her legacy in the world at large recently got a boost this past May, when Google celebrated her birthday with a doodle that sparked a series of articles online.END
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