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  5 Octubre 2018
 26 MAYO 2019

The Exhibition

This coming 5 October Arthemisia opens a new exhibition to the public at Palacio de Gaviria. On view through 26 May 2019, the first survey show in Madrid dedicated to Tamara de Lempicka includes a selection of around 200 works coming from over 40 private collections, museums and lenders worldwide.

The exhibition in Madrid contextualises Lempicka’s art practice within a carefully designed and immersive mise en scène, in which the artworks are arranged in spaces decorated with recognizable Art Deco objects in such a way that her paintings can be seen alongside furniture, screens, lamps, vases, stained glass, photographs and prints from the period.

Curated by Gioia Mori, a leading expert on Tamara de Lempicka who has dedicated a decade to the study of the Polish artist, this exhibition overviews the life and practice of «The Queen of Art Deco». The curator’s in-depth research has helped to throw new light on the breadth of Lempicka’s art practice and to reconstruct little known aspects of her life.

Tamara de Lempicka was a pioneer in the development of Art Deco, the most famous movement of her time, marked by the geometric motifs, bright colours and forthright forms of the 1920s aesthetic. The roots of this classic, symmetrical and linear style, which reached its peak between 1925 and 1935, can be traced back to prior movements like Cubism and Futurism, as well as to the influence of the Bauhaus. Lempicka was one of its outstanding representatives in the realm of the visual arts, for which she proved to be a true revolution.

The show, which has aroused a lot of expectation in Spain since it was first announced by Arthemisia, has already been presented by the Italian cultural management company in other venues including the Royal Palace of Milan (2006), the Pinacothèque de Paris (2013), the Palazzo Chiablese in Turin (2015) and the Palazzo Forti in Verona (2015), where it was highly acclaimed by public and critics alike.

“Tamara de Lempicka. La reina de Art Deco” offers a walkthrough of the artist’s career divided into ten different sections in the various halls at Palacio de Gaviria. In addition, it is to some extent her return to Spain after the epic journey the artist undertook eighty-six years ago when her work had a huge impact on the art scene in Spain of the time.

In summer 1932, the artist travelled extensively throughout Spain on a journey that took her to Malaga, Seville, Cordoba, Toledo and Madrid, which was documented in many enthusiastic articles penned by Spanish critics of the period. Treated like a diva, admired for her clean-cut and refined artistic language, and described as a paragon of beauty and elegance, in her interviews Tamara de Lempicka underscored her fascination with El Greco and Goya, whom she studied diligently on long visits to Spanish museums.

To Paris! Paris in the Roaring Twenties!

After the First World War, following the collapse of the great European empires, Paris became the epicentre for artists and intellectuals from all over the world, and went through a period of unsurpassed creative energy and exhilaration that came to be known as the années folles (the crazy years). The major event for culture and the arts in this period was the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in 1925, which championed Art Deco, a movement born with a mission to foster modernism, decorativism and internationalism.

Tamara de Lempicka found herself in the thick of this new generation attracted to Paris by its exciting creativity, in many cases fleeing from the Bolshevik revolution. She exhibited for the first time in 1922 at the Salón d´Automne, after which she quickly rose to international fame. Her art, replete with references to fashion and glamour, is now seen as an icon of that decade.

The most modern house in Paris

The residence-studio Lempicka bought at number 7 Rue Méchain in 1930 had all the elements of modernist architecture. In fact, many French, English and Polish magazines of the time featured the house as one of the best examples of modernism. The building was designed by the architect Robert Mallet-Stevens, who was hugely influential in the Art Deco movement, while the interiors were by Tamara’s sister, Adrienne Gorska, the first Polish woman to graduate in Architecture and a pioneer in the design of film theatres, with a special mention for the cinemas she designed for the Cinéac group in Paris and the rest of France.

An article by Georges Rémon in Mobilier & Décoration, in January 1931 described the studio as bright and cold, with a steel table and black chairs, tables by Djo-Bourgeois, chairs by René Herbst, lighting by Perzel, sculptures by Chana Orloff and the brothers Jan and Joël Martel. In this “ultramodern” house everything was functional and there was no room for sentimentalism, with one article published in Poland describing it as “smokey grey, slate grey, stone grey, silver grey”.

Tamara de Lempicka and Fashion

Another sign of Lempicka’s modernism was her relationship with fashion, which was so important at the time that it had its own special section at the Salon d’Automne. In fact it was fashion that paved Lempicka’s entry into the art world, as her first commissions were illustrations for women’s magazines such as Femina, of which the exhibition includes an original copy from 1921 illustrated by the artist. Also on show are original sketches and figurines, as well as masterpieces like Two Friends from 1928 and The Blue Scarf from 1930 which are unquestionable evidence of Lempicka’s keen interest in fashion and aesthetics.

Always eager to maintain her reputation as “the most elegant woman in Paris”, and borrowing inspiration from Greta Garbo, Lempicka carefully chose the photographers who were to take her portraits, such as Lorelle, D’Ora and Maywald or Thérèse Bonney—the exhibition includes some previously unseen photos by Bonney—who were all photographers of film stars.

With the purpose of reflecting Tamara’s tastes and likings in fashion, the exhibition features costumes and hats by some of her favourite designers: Descat, Schiaparelli, Vionnet and Patou, on loan from private collections and museums, including Galleria del Costume from Palazzo Pitti in Florence and the Museo del Traje in Madrid, as well as several pairs of shoes from the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum. Likewise, many of her portraits, which depict faces with perfect make-up and smooth as ceramic, are reminiscent of Siegel mannequins, two of which are also on display in the exhibition.


Amazons was one of the names given to lesbians at the beginning of the twentieth century. Tamara de Lempicka never hid her affairs with women, at a time in which culture was relatively uninhibited. The 1920s was when Proust published the final volume of his À la recherche du temps perdu and several films like Pandora’s Box, directed by Georg Wilhelm Pabst (1929), Morocco directed by Josef von Sternberg (1931) and Queen Christina, directed by Rouben Mamoulian (1933), included Sapphic scenes.

However, despite the tolerance of the world of art and culture, many of these situations were still considered taboo by wider society. This was the case of the garçonnes who adopted masculine clothing and behaviour and, like Lempicka, frequented notorious “women-only” clubs. This twilight world is depicted in paintings such as Double 47, from 1924, in which the number is the address of one of these underground clubs.

On exhibit in this section are a large number of the artist’s nudes, in which one can readily appreciate the evolution of her painterly style. Her nudes from the early twenties revealed an evident study of ancient art, but by the middle of the decade they had evolved towards studies of light and shadow more proper to photography, as one can see in the portrait La belle Rafaela from 1927. In this section one can view exquisite depictions of busts cut out by light, barely perceptible faces plunged in darkness, and unadorned backdrops that enhance the figure of women, presented as the objects of desire.

Still Life

Another of Lempicka’s favourite subject matters was still life compositions with flowers, and in the thirties she became a consummate painter of this theme. She had already painted still lifes in 1927, when she depicted a single rose lying on a sheet of paper, reminiscent of a photograph by Kertész from 1926, in which the petals of the flower photographed in close-up seem to be particularly uniform, as if they were made from some rigid synthetic material. Lempicka’s still lifes stand out for their compositional simplicity and the highly personal colouring proper to Art Deco. This same vision can be seen in her hydrangeas, which are strongly influenced by Japanese art and particularly by Hokusai, and also in her still lifes with fruit against a black ground, with an evident baroque imprint.

This section is completed with various pieces by Alfredo Ravasco (Genoa, 1873 – Ghiffa, 1958), a leading Art Deco sculptor, widely viewed as the ideal of the modern silversmith. He conceived his objects almost like miniature architectures in a whole range of materials, always using them in highly refined palettes and with a modern composition. Like Lempicka, he also took part in the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in 1925 in Paris with jewellery, boxes and zoomorphic objects which were widely acclaimed for their geometric lines.

Mothers and Children

Kizette Lempicka (Tamara’s daughter with her first husband Tadeusz Lempicki) was born in 1916. From a very early age her mother used Kizette as a model on countless occasions. All the portraits of her childhood and adolescence were received very well by critics, most notably Kizette on the Balcony, for which she won an honorary diploma at the Exposition Internationale des Beaux-Arts in Bordeaux. This exhibition includes a portrait of Kizette made in in 1924. In fact, Kizette continued to pose as a model for her mother until well into her adulthood, with portraits like the one on view here at Palacio de Gaviria, dating from 1954.

In this regard, one of the most singular works on view in this show is the painting which has been called Mother with Child in many modern sources, but which in fact depicts the Our Lady and Jesus as a Child, as borne out by the caption of a photo of the work published in January 1939 in the L’Officiel fashion magazine. This section is rounded off with portraits of, among others, Louisanne Kuffner and Malwina Decler, the artist’s mother.

King Alfonso XIII of Spain

This exhibition in Madrid takes place following recent discoveries by the curator Gioia Mori which are important landmarks in reconstructing Lempicka’s biographical and artistic timeline. This is the case of the portrait of Alfonso XIII of Spain which has never been exhibited publicly before. When Alfonso XIII died in exile in Rome, in February 1941, Lempicka had already moved to the USA and was just about to open a major solo exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York. Every day newspapers were publishing interviews with the artist and, in each one, she underscored the fact that the King of Spain had posed for her on several occasions in the 1930s during his exile in Italy, after winning him over with her irony and irrepressible talkativeness.

As the whereabouts of the painting were unknown, there had always been doubts as to the truthfulness of its existence. Now, almost eighty years after the claims in her interviews, Gioia Mori has solved the mystery and discovered an unfinished painting-on-canvas portrait of Alfonso XIII. The authenticity is also backed up by the discovery of a private letter addressed to a collector that documents the date of the painting, 1934, as well as the place in Italy. The portrait will be presented in Madrid where it can be compared with other coeval portraits of the king, including two by the monarchist painter Federico Beltrán-Masses, who Lempicka had met for the first time in 1927.

Furthermore, this section includes Les Réfugiés the painting from 1931 from the collection of Musée d’Art et d’Histoire de Saint-Denis. Lempicka, who had been caught up in the fall of the Tsarist empire, was deeply moved not only by the plight of King Alfonso XIII in exile, but also by the suffering of the refugees who fled Spain for France at the beginning of the Second Republic. Full of pathos, this work is outside the decorative guidelines that had won her worldwide acclaim and is removed from the lifestyle the artist depicted in her paintings.

A Compendium of Art History

“Madame la Baroness, Modern Medievalist” was the title of an article about Lempicka in 1941. It analysed how her paintings were underwritten by an in-depth examination of fifteenth-century Italian and seventeenth-century Flemish painting, of which the artist was a great admirer. The names mentioned in the article include Van der Weyden, Crivelli, Vermeer and El Greco, but one would also have to add Hayez, Pontormo, Bernini, Michelangelo, Hellenistic and Roman statuary, Botticelli and Raphael, all of which were instrumental in turning Tamara Lempicka’s work into a true compendium of Art History.

The artist’s return to antiquity was in consonance with the principles of Art Deco, which adopted Etruscan, Egyptian and pre-Colombian patterns as well as with eighteenth-century forms, inserting them into extremely modern contexts: these same lines could be applied from everything from skyscrapers to furniture. On the other hand, ancient sculpture was the inspiration for Art Deco’s large volumes and sense of gigantism, elements we come across in many of Lempicka’s figures from the twenties and thirties.

Tamara de Lempicka, Baroness Kuffner

In February 1939 Tamara and her second husband, Baron Raoul Kuffner, threw their last party at Rue Méchain, just before heading off for the USA. They had been preparing their move in secret for some time in response to the growing instability prior to the outbreak of the Second World War. In 1940 they rented the former house of the film director King Vidor in Beverly Hills, where they took a series of photos in which Tamara appears like a Hollywood diva. Here they held lavish parties to which they invited the great film stars of the time like Pola Negri, Theda Bara, Greta Garbo, Tyrone Power, Annabella and Charles Boyer.

In 1941 Lempicka entrusted the re-launch of her career to Julien Levy. Levy organised three exhibitions in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, with the costs being defrayed by Baron Kuffner. However, critics believed the painting by the artist who was now known as “Baroness of the Brush” to be anachronistic. This section includes several photos from the time, some of which were taken by the Russian immigrant Nicholas Orloff, who worked as a KGB spy in the United States during the Second World War, and also for OSS, the forerunner of the CIA.

It was during this period when Lempicka told the American press that she wished to do an exhibition exclusively with paintings of hands. Although this project never took place, several of her paintings from this decade returned to the theme. In fact, it was something she had already explored in Paris during the 1920s. In 1928 a report in the journal VU explained how many photographers were taking portraits of hands because they believed that hands were the instruments that fulfilled the creative orders of the mind. Some noteworthy images of hands, which Lempicka undoubtedly saw, were the work of the most important photographers of the time: Laure Albin Guillot, Berenice Abbott, André Kertész and François Kollar, some of which are included in this exhibition, alongside Dora Maar’s surrealist imagery with hands.

Visions amoureuses

Uno de los rasgos que hicieron que Lempicka se convirtiera en el icono de una modernidad transgresora y precursora es su manifiesta bisexualidad y el amor por algunas mujeres que dieron origen a sus grandes obras maestras.

Son aquellas pinturas que ella llamaba visions amoureuses y que cierran el recorrido de la exposición: la mujer con la que mantuvo una relación durante décadas, Ira Perrot, modelo de Sa tristesse de 1923; la aventura de un encuentro, Rafaela, modelo de su desnudo más erótico, La hermosa Rafaela de 1927, resplandeciente en la oscuridad del fondo. Historias sáficas, abrazos prohibidos, como el de la pintura Las muchachas jóvenes, de 1930, que se perfilan sobre la modernidad de los rascacielos de Nueva York, una obra que no se expone desde el año 1994 y que se ha convertido en imagen central de esta muestra en Madrid.

Tamara de Lempicka

Artist Matches Model To Painting, Tamara de Lempicka (Baroness Kuffner) and Miss Cecelia Meyers with the painting Suzanne au Bain, Beverly Hills, CA, May 14, 1940. Crédito: ACME Newspictures.

Tamara Rosalia Gurwik-Gorska’s exact date and place of birth are unknown, but we do know that she was born into an upper-class family sometime between 1895 and 1898 in either Warsaw, Moscow and Saint Petersburg, depending on differing accounts.

Her childhood and adolescence was spent travelling between Switzerland, Italy, Poland and Russia. During these formative years she learnt many languages and took classes in art, for which she had shown great sensibility from a very young age. In 1916 she married Tadeusz Lempicki in Saint Petersburg and later that same year their daughter Kizette was born. Two years afterwards she was forced to leave Russia after her husband was arrested following the political change in the country. She moved to Paris, where she was eventually reunited with Tadeusz.

In France she started to take classes in painting, attending lessons by André Lhote, whom she would always recognise as her mentor. However, her professional career began as a fashion illustrator and it was not until 1922 when her work was exhibited for the first time, at the Salón d´Automne. She also started to frequent gatherings with artists and intellectuals like Cocteau, Joyce, Colette and Isadora Duncan, and, as the decade progressed her paintings became increasingly more acclaimed and she began to exhibit her first nudes. Her work was seen in a number of solo and group shows, including the Salon des Indépendants in Paris, Count Emanuele Castelbarco’s Galleria Bottega di Poesia in Milan and at the Exposition Internationale des Beaux-Arts in Bordeaux, where she was awarded an honorary diploma for Kizette on the Balcony. In 1929, by this time already divorced from Tadeusz, she painted her celebrated Autoportrait (Tamara in a Green Bugatti). On 3 April 1929 she set sail for the United States for the first time to take part at the 28th International Exhibition of Paintings at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, with Portrait of Doctor Boucard, The Dream and Kizette on the Balcony.
Arriving on the S.S.Paris, Miss Tamara de Lempicka, New York, 9th April 1929. Crédito: ACME Newspictures.

Increasingly acclaimed by society and critics alike, Tamara’s production and fame—as an artist and also as the embodiment of a liberated lifestyle—reached its peak in the period between the two world wars. She painted portraits of scientists, writers, intellectuals and members of Europe’s ancient nobility in exile. She married for a second time, this time to Baron Raoul Kuffner. In the summer of 1932, the artist spent some time in Spain, travelling to Malaga, Seville, Cordoba, Toledo and Madrid. In 1934, she met King Alfonso XIII of Spain, then in exile in Italy, and dedicated a portrait to him that can now be seen for the very first time here in Madrid. Three years later, in 1937, she took part in the show Les femmes artistes d’Europe at the Musée du Jeu de Paume in Paris.

With the threat of World War II looming on the horizon, Tamara and Baron Kuffner moved to the United States, and settled in Beverly Hills in the former home of the film director King Vidor. In 1941, a solo show of her work opened at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York, followed later that year at Levy’s gallery in Los Angeles and at the Courvoisier Galleries in San Francisco. In 1943 the couple moved again, this time to New York. Then, following the end of the war, the artist returned to Paris and her famous studio at Rue Méchain.

Although she never stopped creating, the advent of Abstract Expressionism in the post-war years eclipsed Lempicka’s star. In 1966, the Musee des Arts Decoratifs staged a commemorative exhibition in Paris titled Les Années ’25, which helped to raise newfound interest in her work.

In the 1960s, after the death of her husband, Baron Kuffner, Lempicka moved to Houston to be close to her daughter Kizette. Years later, in 1978 she moved again, this time to Mexico where she bought a house in in Cuernavaca called Tres Bambús where she spent the final years of her life.

Tamara de Lempicka died in her sleep on 18 March 1980. Following her wishes, she was cremated and her ashes were scattered over the crater of the Popocatepetl volcano.

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All the pictures © Tamara Art Heritage / ADAGP, Paris / VEGAP, Madrid, 2018