The Queen of Art Déco - On Tamara de Lempicka's 115th Birthday in 2013

16 May 1898: Today, 115 years ago, the Polish painter Tamara de Lempicka was born in Warsaw.

"I was the first woman to paint cleanly, and that was the basis of my success. From a hundred pictures, mine will always stand out. And so the galleries began to hang my work in their best rooms, always in the middle, because my painting was attractive. It was precise. It was 'finished'." (Tamara de Lempicka)

De Lempicka in her studio in 1928, painting the portrait of her husband, photographed by Thérèse Bonney

Living in St Petersburg during the revolution, de Lempicka flew to Paris with her husband, where she had her breakthrough after seven years of a struggling poor artist’s life. Her paintings combining cool sobriety with a certain Renaissance influence and clear lines and colours with a mostly sensual sujet found an enthusiastic audience during the 1925 Exposition internationale des Arts Décoratifs et industriels modernes, a world fair of art, crafts and industrial design, minting the term “Art Deco” out of “Arts Décoratifs“.

“Portrait of a Man”, Tadeusz de Lempicki, shown as an epigonic dandy (1928)

She quickly became "the first woman artist to be a glamour star", adding the “de” to her name, delivered a series of well-paid Art Deco paintings, portraits and magazine covers, leading the iconic life of a socialite of the Roaring Twenties. Public interest in Art Deco paintings faded in the mid-1930s, de Lempicka decided to stay in the US with her new husband and remained there when the lights went out in Europe. She continued to paint now and then but her work was rather not well received in the post-war US and she withdrew into likewise ageing high society circles, mourning the lost glamour of the Jazz Age.

Tamara de Lempicka: ""La bella Rafaela"

De Lempicka died in Mexico in 1980 and willed her ashes to be strewn over the volcano Popocatepetl, diva to the last. Her colourful life inspired a stage play and, very recently, a novel, her work is still cherished among Art Deco connoisseurs and admirers of 20th century art.

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