Paris Show Unveils de Lempicka

Married twice, she preferred women. Tamara de Lempicka was not only one of the most glamorous socialites of the “années folles,” the “roaring twenties” in Paris. She also was one of the most fashionable portrait painters of her time.

Art collectors of ArtKabinett social media network possess many of her paintings in their independent collections.

In the U.S., where she spent the second half of her life, she has still many admirers, not least among the show-biz crowd: Madonna and Streisand are among her most avid collectors.

In Paris, the arbiters of taste never took her quite seriously. The show at the Pinacotheque de Paris is only the second retrospective in the city in which she had celebrated her greatest triumphs.

The first, a relatively modest affair, took place in 2006 in the suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt.

Lempicka (1898-1980) was born Maria Gorska in Warsaw, then part of the Russian Empire. She arrived in Paris after World War I as one of the many refugees fleeing the Bolshevik revolution.

Because her husband, a lawyer, was unable to find suitable work, madame had to do the bread winning. Back in Russia, she had started painting as a hobby. Now, she took it up in earnest and soon developed her own, characteristic style.

Her sharply outlined, poster-like portraits of the smart set owe much to what we now call Art Deco, the fashionable style of design and decoration in the 1920s and 1930s
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Voluptuous Nudes

Most of her sitters were women. Lempicka made no secret of her sexual preference: The show is teeming with voluptuous nudes in daring positions.

For a long time, she was involved with the celebrated night-club singer Suzy Solidor, whom she also portrayed in the nude. That portrait, one of Lempicka’s best, is not in the show.

Instead, we are treated to her almost hysterical correspondence with the Italian poet Gabriele d’Annunzio, a notorious lecher, 35 years her senior. She hoped to paint him; he hoped to bed her. They were both disappointed.

In 1927, her husband had enough of his wife’s unorthodox lifestyle and left her.
In 1939, she moved with her second husband, a Hungarian nobleman, to Hollywood. By then, she had largely fallen out of fashion. The still lifes and religious paintings of her later period have nothing of the steely brilliance of her Paris years.

She died in Cuernavaca, Mexico. In a last grand gesture, her ashes were scattered over the volcano Popocatepetl.

The exhibition in Paris runs through Sept. 8. Information: http://www.pinacotheque.com.