"In that context, she really appeared as an artist who defined the period, in terms of style and attitude, in a certain toughness," Theberge said in an interview. Echoes of her style can be found in German portraits of the same era by Christian Schad and Wilhelm Schnarrenberger.
Art scholars and critics are divided on De Lempicka, to say the least. Many regard her as an artist who merely reflected her times rather than helped to define them. And her post-European work inevitably diminishes her reputation.
Theberge makes clear that he does not equate De Lempicka with Picasso or with succeeding art geniuses who flowered in the 1920s. Rather, he puts her in the company of Josephine Baker, Greta Garbo, Coco Chanel and Colette, those who placed their distinctive stamp on European society between the wars.
The sloe-eyed decadence reflected in "Les jeunes filles" ("Young Girls," 1929), the portrait of Montmartre nightclub owner Suzy Solidor in front of a Cubist skyline (1933) and the confident expression in a 1932 self-portrait behind the wheel of a green Bugatti are veritable advertisements for the era. Certainly, art in the De Lempicka style pops up across North America in billboards, signs, posters and other suggestions of the period.
Also contributing to the De Lempicka revival may be a contemporary resonance in her persona: independent, unabashed in her sexuality, self-promoting, ambitious. Sound familiar? Consider this: Madonna is a collector and has used images from De Lempicka in her music videos.
"It's astounding how contemporary she is to today's sensibility," said Theberge, who added that, in the 1920s and '30s, "you can count on the fingers of your hand the number of women artists who were successful."
"I live life in the margins of society and the rules of normal society don't apply in the margins," De Lempicka said, according to "Passion by Design," a 1987 biography co-authored by the artist's daughter, Kizette de Lempicka-Foxhall, and Charles Phillips.
The artist was born Tamara Gorska in Warsaw around the turn of the century--the precise date is uncertain. She summered in St. Petersburg and married a well-to-do Russian lawyer, Tadeusz de Lempicki, in 1916. Two years later, the couple fled the Bolshevik Revolution for Paris.
There, they moved into the circle of exiled Russian nobility and other out-of-work aristocrats. It was there that De Lempicka took up painting. The teacher who had the greatest influence on her was Andre Lhote, who sought to apply the principles of Cubism to traditional subjects such as landscapes, nudes and portraits.
Seriously ambitious in her art, the tall, blond De Lempicka managed to turn her headlong lifestyle into a business asset. Her notoriety attracted clients; clients became patrons, and lovers. And there were countless lovers, male and female. Her visits to the estate of Italian Fascist poet Gabriele d'Annunzio inspired a gossipy account by a servant that decades later was transformed into the audience-participation play "Tamara." The play opened in Los Angeles in 1984 and ran for the better part of a decade.
Tadeusz de Lempicki divorced her in 1928. She painted a portrait of him that same year, leaving unfinished the left hand, which would have carried the wedding band. In 1933 she married Baron Raoul Kuffner on the understanding that she could continue to live as she pleased.
This news has been published by title How Tamara De Lempicka\'s \'Green Bugatti\' Painting Defined An Era
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