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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Tamara de Lempicka

An overview of Tamara de Lempicka. Her self-portrait is top-center.
Her daughter, Kizette is depicted in the upper right corner.
Kizette, ca. 1920, Tamara de
  Lempicka, the first of many.
In all of human relations, there is hardly a more touching and unique bond than that between a mother and her daughter. The nature of that bond varies in a million ways depending upon a million different factors, personalities, and circumstances. Yet it is a relationship not often explored on canvas. There is, of course, a very good reason for that. Most artists are not mothers. Moreover, those who are, don't always have daughters. Male artists have, from time to time tried to express the love and companionship of mothers and daughters, but having never been either one, their efforts are observational at best. Mary Cassatt explored this relationship as did Elisabeth Vigee-LeBrun. As the number of women artists has increased in the past hundred years, so too have their expression of this special bond between two female generations. Among these more recent mother-daughter endeavors has been the work of Tamara de Lempicka.

Portrait of Kizette (detail), 1927, Tamara de Lempicka

Kizette on the Balcony, 1926,
Tamara de Lempicka
Kizette in Rose, 1927,
Tamara de Lempicka
Tadeusz Lempicki, 1928,
Tamara de Lempicka
Despite her exceptional adeptness with a brush and insights into what a mother and daughter feel for each other, Tamara de Lempicka is not likely to ever grace a Mothers' Day card. In fact it would be easy to argue that she was the type of woman who should never have become a mother in the first place. She was very much a "liberated" woman in the days when liberated women were not at all common, much less having managed to work out the conflicting pressures of motherhood and a career. All this is to say she was not a good mother to her young daughter, Kizette, born in 1917. Tamara was married at the time to Tadeusz Lempicki, ten years her elder, whom she met in St. Petersburg as a girl of fifteen. Maria Górska (her birth name) was born the daughter of a wealthy Jewish lawyer and a Polish socialite. They divorced when she was a child. leaving their daughter to be raised by her grandmother. It was she who first exposed Tamara to the great masters and stirred her interest in art.

Tamara de Lempicka could hardly have picked a worse husband. Tadeusz Lempicki could best be called a "playboy" by today's standards, a well-known ladies' man, and gadabout, who was officially a lawyer, but in fact was more interested in his young wife's significant dowry. Shortly before their daughter was born, the Russian Revolution boiled over in St. Petersburg where Tadeusz Lempicki was arrested by the Bolsheviks in the middle of the night and hauled off to prison. It would probably have been just as well if Tamara had allowed him to rot in prison, but instead she drew upon family connections and eventually managed to find him and get him freed. Reunited, they quickly departed for Copenhagen and later Paris.

La Bella Rafaela di Tamara de Lempicka.
The Mother Superior, 1939,
Tamara de Lempicka
Kizette was born in Paris (some sources say St. Petersburg) as the family struggled financially, living on the sale of the family jewels. The best part about their living in Paris during the 1920s was the avant-garde artists also living their. The vivacious, highly-attractive Tamara Lempicka knew virtually all of them from Picasso to Maurice Denis and Jean Cocteau. She and her sister, Adrienne Górska were "into" Art Deco. Tamara's sister designed tubular, chrome-plated furniture in that style. Tamara began to study art at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, which soon led to portrait commission in a style reflecting Art Deco only cooler and more sensual. Though her portraits often brought up to 50,000 francs (about $2,000) her style was not without critics, who termed it 'perverse Ingrism' (pronounced ang-ism). That means it resembled too closely the work of the out-of-favor academician, Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres. It was during this time, as Kizette was growing up to be a very pretty little girl that Tamara was growing to be a very remote and highly preoccupied artist. The nature of her series of portraits dating from around 1920 through to about 1934 (below) center upon her motives. Were her painted portraits the one and only way she could express a mother's love for her lovely daughter, or was she simply callously using her daughter as an artist's model?

The Communicant,
Tamara de Lempicka
Kizette, the Polish Shaw,
Tamara de Lempicka
Tamara and Kizette,
Paris, ca. 1923
The evidence swings both ways. Many of Lempicka's closest friends didn't even know she had a daughter despite the many paintings she was producing using Kizette as a model. Her portrait of her daughter titled The Communicant (above, left), is an example of this deception. In other cases Kizette's name is mention in the title but with no indication of their mother-daughter relationship. Kizette wasn't the only one Tamara Lempicka neglected. Her husband deserted her in 1927. They divorced in 1931. She became involved in a number of bisexual trysts in Paris and elsewhere as she travel about Europe and the United states attending exhibitions of her work. An exhibition in New York, for instance, was an immense success, but the artist lost all the sales proceeds from the show when the bank she used to transfer the money back to Europe went bankrupt with the stock market crash of 1929.

Kizette Sleeping, 1934, Tamara de Lempicka

Portrait of a Man,
Baron Kuffner,1932,
Tamara de Lempicka
About the same time, Baron Raoul Kuffner von Diószeg visited her studio and commissioned a portrait of his mistress. She completed the portrait, then seduced the Baron, replacing the subject of the portrait as his mistress, eventually marrying him after the death of his wife in 1934. Seeing WW II on the horizon long before most of her friends, she and the Baron took an "extended vacation" to the United States to be near Kizette, who had by then married a Texas geologist. Now a baroness, she ended up in Hollywood during the 1930s, residing in the Beverly Hills mansion which had once belonged to the movie director King Vidor. There she painted the likes and likenesses of stars such as Tyrone Power, Walter Pidgeon, and George Sanders. Though Lempicka never painted her, the baroness took on the style and mannerisms of Greta Garbo.

Kizette as an Adult, 1954, her
mother's final portrait of her.
The special relationship between Tamara and Kizette, despite the strains imposed upon it during Kizette's neglected childhood, matured as the years passed, taking on a new dimension. Tamara de Lempicka didn't changed. In fact, she grew ever more difficult to endure as she grew older. Kizette became her mother's agent, managing her fiancés, while indulging her frivolous whims, and complaints, everything from the poor quality of American paints to the poor quality of Americans. She longed for the glory days on royal refinement before such pretensions went out of style in Europe (they never were in style here). In 1978, Tamara de Lempicka moved to Cuernavaca, Mexico, where there was an aging, dying colony of royal refugees. There in 1980, she herself died at the age of eighty-two. Although the critical popularity and appreciation of her work faded during the latter years of the artist's life, just before her death, as so often happens, the arty crowd once more took an interest in her work. Barbra Streisand paid about $2-million for Lempicka's 1931 Adam and Eve (below). Books were written, stage plays evolved, and a movie was made based upon her colorful life. Kizette Lempicka Foxhall (above, right) died April 16, 2001, at the age of eighty-two.
Adam and Eve, 1931, Tamara Lempicka.

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