Saturday, July 18, 2015

WOMEN ARTISTS: Tamara de Lempicka

High Summer (on left); Portrait of Romana de la Salle (on right)

Of all the Art Deco artists of the 20th century, certainly one of the most memorable and glamorous was Tamara De Lempicka -- the featured artist for July, in my Woman Artist Series.


Here are 10 things to know about Tamara De Lempicka, along with photos of her paintings and images of her:

1.  In 1929, Lempicka painted her iconic work, Auto-Portrait (Tamara in the Green Bugatti), for the cover of the German fashion magazine Die Dame.   The painting became famous overnight -- and Tamara with it.  The image has become symbolic of the freedom and decadence associated with the Roaring Twenties in Paris, and is generally considered to epitomize the jazz-age woman. 

Tamara in the Green Bugatti

This self-portrait displays de Lempicka, as a vamp in a green Bugatti, asserting herself and pushing forward through the frame.  The New York Times called her the "steely-eyed goddess of the Machine Age".

2.  She was born Tamara Maria Gorska of in turn-of-the-century Warsaw, Poland, in 1898, into a wealthy and prominent family.  When her parents divorced in 1912, her wealthy grandmother spoiled her with clothes and travel.

By age 14, she was attending school in Lausanne, Switzerland.  Tamara vacationed in St. Petersburg with her Aunt Stephanie and her millionaire banker uncle.  

Young Lady with Gloves

3.  In 1914, soon after Russia and Germany declared war, she fell in love with the handsome lawyer and well-known ladies' man, Tadeusz Lempicki.  Two years later they were married in fashionable St. Petersburg.  Her new husband had no money of his own, so her banker uncle provided the dowry.  

In 1917, during the Russian Revolution, Tadeusz was arrested in the dead of the night by the Bolsheviks. Tamara searched the prisons for him, and after several weeks, using her good looks to charm and gain favors from the necessary officials, she secured his release.

The couple traveled to Copenhagen, then to London, and finally to Paris -- and that is where the story of Tamara De Lempicka's fantastic life really begins.

Saint-Moritz, 1929

4.  In 1920, their daughter, Kizette, was born.  Obsessed with her work and her social life, Lempicka neglected her husband (who refused to work), and rarely saw her daughter.  When Kizette was not away at boarding school, in France or England, the girl was often with her grandmother, Malvina.  When Lempicka told her mother and daughter that she wouldn't be returning from America for Christmas, in 1929, Malvina was so angry that she burned Lempicka's enormous collection of designer hats.

Kizette may have been neglected, but she was also immortalized.  Lempicka painted her only child repeatedly, leaving a striking portrait series:  Kizette in Pink, 1926; Kizette on the Balcony, 1927; Kizette Sleeping, 1934; Portrait of Baroness Kizette, 1954.  In other paintings, the women depicted tended to resemble Kizette.

In 1927, her painting Kizette on the Balcony won first prize at the Exposition Internationale des Beaux-Arts in Bordeaux.

Kizette on the Balcony

Kizette in Pink

It's said that Lempicka pretended for years that her daughter was her sister, so she could fib about her own age.

5.  Tamara arrived in Paris in 1918, in difficult circumstances.  She was only twenty, and her husband had no position.  In Paris, the Lempickas lived for awhile from the sale of family jewels.  Tadeusz was unwilling or unable to find suitable work, which added to the domestic strain.  But, she had lost none of her remarkable energy.  She decided to continue the art studies she had interrupted in St. Petersburg.  Tamara studied art, and worked day and night.

Tamara first studied at the Academie Ranson with French Post-Impressionist painter, Maurice Denis -- who stressed the importance of graphic art and design within painting.  Andre Lhote, another mentor for Lempicka, had the most significant influence upon her Art Deco style.  Lempicka discovered everything she needed for her art in Paris -- Italian masterpieces in the Louvre, Modernism, Art Deco, and ritzy fashion.  

These were the years, between the 1920's and 1930's, of Lempicka's greatest success.  This is when she produced her most critically praised and notorious works.  The Museum of Nantes acquired her Kizette in Pink, and a number of rich collectors commissioned portraits.  She exhibited in the major salons from 1923, and American museums started buying her work in the early 1930's.
For her first major show, in Milan, Italy in 1925, Lempicka painted 28 new works in six months.  This solo exhibition established her reputation as a portraitist of smart society.

She became a well-known, much sought-after portrait painter with a distinctive Art Deco style.  She painted the portraits of the rich, the elite, and the famous, in a style that made her both famous and commercially successful.

Le Reve, 1927

Sharing Secrets

6.  Lempicka's distinctive and bold artistic style developed quickly, influenced by what Andre Lhote referred to as "soft cubism".  Her highly stylized portraits and erotic nudes epitomized the cool yet sensual side of the Art Deco movement.  In Paris, Art Deco was the dominant art form of the 1920-1920 period.  Lempicka's technique was novel, clean, precise, and elegant.

The 1920's was a period of both social and economic transition in Paris and beyond, and this revealed itself in the work of de Lempicka and her contemporaries.  Whether she was an Art Deco artist, a Neoclassicist, or post-Cubist, de Lempicka ultimately struck a chord with a cosmopolitan public that found its own image reflected within her work.  

The Musician, 1929

Not only did she paint portraits of modern women, she lived like one herself.  De Lempicka is a woman whose work is often inseparable with her life.  Success gave her wings, encouraging her to work and exhibit tirelessly.  She painted portraits of writers, entertainers, artists, scientists, industrialists, and many of Eastern Europe's exiled nobility.  

By now, she had found a certain signature style.  Lempicka frequently used a diagonal composition that seemed to squeeze the subject into the picture plane.  Other signature features include firm flesh, stylish hair and clothing, and vivid color accents.  

By the late twenties, art and fashion journals had carried Lempicka's fame across the Atlantic.  She was asked to come to New York to do several portraits.  Her work brought her critical acclaim, social celebrity, and considerable wealth.  During the 1930's, a de Lempicka portrait was considered the height of style in New York and Hollywood.  

The Blue Scarf

7.  In Paris during the Roaring Twenties, Tamara de Lempicka became part of the bohemian lifestyle.  Her affairs with both men and women were conducted in ways that were considered scandalous at the time.  

Tamara with Portrait of Marjorie Ferry

She revelled in her own success, enjoying high society, decadent living, and passionate love affairs.  Her art and her name have become synonymous with the hedonistic lifestyle of the Roaring Twenties and the Art Deco movement.

Her husband eventually tired of their arrangement and abandoned her in 1927.  They were divorced in 1931.

Portrait of Ira P.

8.  In 1928, one of her earliest and wealthiest patrons, the Baron Raoul Kuffner, visited her studio and commissioned her to paint his mistress.  Lempicka finished the portrait, then took the mistress' place in the Baron's life.  Her social position was cemented when she married the Baron in 1934, in Zurich.  She repaid him by convincing him to sell many of his estates in Eastern Europe and move his money to Switzerland, since she saw the coming of World War II from a long way off.

In 1939, before WW II broke out, Lempicka and Kuffner emigrated to America and settled in Beverly Hills, CA, where they leased director King Vidor's former home.  Tamara cultivated a Garboesque manner.  The Baroness would visit the Hollywood stars on their studio sets, such as Tyrone Power and Walter Pidgeon, and they would come to her studio to see her at work.  She did war relief work, and she managed to get Kizette out of Nazi-occupied Paris, via Lisbon, in 1941.

They later settled in a palatial duplex on New York's 5th Avenue, in 1943.  Lempicka took to Manhattan with glee, getting her name in all the gossip columns as the "Baroness with the Brush".

For awhile, Tamara continued to paint in her trademark style, although her range of subject matter changed to include still lives and abstracts.  But, she could not recapture her earlier success.  As her production slowed, she disappeared from the art world for nearly 20 years.

Portrait of Pierre de Montaut

9.  After Baron Kuffner's sudden death of a heart attack in 1962, she sold most of her possessions and made three around-the-world trips by ship.  Finally, Lempicka moved to Houston, Texas, to be with Kizette and her family.  There, she began her difficult and disagreeable later years.  

She continued to paint, but the advent of Abstract Expressionism and her advancing age halted her career in the 1950's and 1960's.  Somewhat forgotten, her work ignored, she stored her canvases, new and old, in an attic and a warehouse -- and, unfortunately never exhibited again.


Wide-Brimmed Hat

In 1978, she moved to the little town of Cuernavaca, Mexico, permanently, to live among an aging international set and some of the younger aristocrats.  She mourned the loss of her beauty and was cantankerous to the end.

Tamara de Lempicka died in her sleep 1980, in Cuernavaca, at the age of 81, with her daughter Kizette at her side.  Her wish to be cremated and have her ashes spread on the top of the volcano Popocatepetl was carried out.

Portrait of a Man

10.  Lempicka lived long enough for the wheel of fashion to turn a full circle.  As Art Deco and figurative painting came into favor again, she was rediscovered by the art world; and, before she died, a new generation had discovered her art and greeted it with enthusiasm.  A retrospective in 1973 drew positive reviews.

At the time of her death, her Art Deco paintings were being shown and purchased once again.

American singer and actress, Madonna, is an admirer and collector of Lempicka's work.  She has featured Tamara's paintings in her music videos, and has also used paintings by Lempicka on the sets of her world tours.  

Other notable Lempicka collectors include actor, Jack Nicholson, singer, Luther Vandross, and singer/actress, Barbra Streisand.

Lempicka's paintings at Sotheby's

Friday, June 19, 2015

WOMEN ARTISTS: Jane Peterson


Jane Peterson, one of America's most innovative artists, is the featured artist for June, in my Woman Artist Series.  She was a remarkable woman who lived a life of travel, independence, and adventure -- not common among her contemporaries.  


Here are 10 things to know about Jane Peterson, along with photos of her wonderful paintings and a few images and self-portraits of Jane, herself:

1.  Peterson's birth name was Jennie Christine.  She officially changed her name to Jane Peterson in 1909, following her first major American exhibition in Boston.

She was born in Elgin, Illinois in 1876.  She loved to draw from nature as a child, and she took art lessons at the Elgin Public Schools.  Despite having no formal art training, Jennie Christine was able to take and pass an aptitude exam for artistic ability, at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Because of the results of this test, and with her family's support and encouragement, Peterson eventually applied and was accepted at the prestigious Pratt Institute in New York City.  Peterson's mother, proud of her daughter's talent, and anxious for her to succeed as an artist, provided Jane with $300 toward enrollment at Pratt (a significant investment at that time for her family.)

While at Pratt, she studied under Arthur Wesley Dow.  Dow's principles of simplified design and color are evident in Peterson's early work and continued to influence her, throughout her career.

2.  To support herself and pay for school, Peterson sold her own works and also gave lessons to fellow students.  Before graduating, she taught painting and became a revered teacher at Pratt.

After graduating from Pratt in 1901, Peterson became the Drawing Supervisor of Brooklyn Public Schools.  In 1906, she taught briefly at the School of Art & Design in Baltimore, Maryland.

She continued her oil and watercolor painting studies at the Art Students League in NYC, under Frank DuMond-- and also saved enough money for her upcoming travels.

3.  After studying art in New York, she embarked on her first European journey in 1907, traveling to Paris first, and later becoming a student of the Spanish Impressionist, Joaquin Sorolla, two years later. 

Like many young people, especially artists, Peterson extended her artistic education by taking the traditional grand tour of Europe.  For the rest of her life, she would frequently return to travel on the continent.  She traveled to Paris to study Modernism with Jacques Blanche, and to Venice and London to study painting with Frank Brangwyn.  

In 1909, Peterson went on to Madrid, where she was profoundly inspired by the energetic, sun-drenched style of the Spanish artist, Joaquin Sorolla, who became her mentor.  This experience gave new brilliance and spontaneity to her work.  


Girl in Striped Jacket (c. 1914)

4.  In 1910, Peterson's travels led her to Egypt and Algeria -- though traveling alone in North Africa was highly unusual for a Western woman at this time.  The painting below, Boats on the Nile, Dawn, c. 1910, depicts two traditional Egyptian sailing boats known as feluccas, gliding along the Nile.

Boats on the Nile, Dawn, c. 1910, oil on canvas

Soon after her return to the States, a major show of 87 paintings of Venice, Spain, Algeria, and Egypt was held at the Art Institute of Chicago, in 1910.  This was her first one-woman exhibition, that eventually led to a near sell-out exhibition in New York City.

Sorolla arrived in the US soon after, to open his own exhibition at the Institute.  He then persuaded Peterson to follow him to New York, where he had been commissioned to do a portrait of Louis Comfort Tiffany.

A Garden in Constantinople

5.  In 1912, Peterson journeyed back to Paris, where she associated with the members of the American Art Association, as well as the inner circle of Gertrude Stein, including Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse.

Her interest in watercolor began at this time, and on her return to the US in 1913, she began a six-year tenure at the Art Students League in New York, as an instructor of watercolor painting.  

She became quite gifted in watermedia, and enjoyed using gouache and watercolor, for some of her plein air works.  

Flag Day


6.   Peterson was introduced to the well-known designer, Louis Comfort Tiffany, and was invited to his summer estate in Oyster Bay, Long Island, where her favorite subjects were the lush gardens surrounding his enormous mansion.  The gardens themselves were often likened to Monet's gardens at Giverny.  His exquisite gardens were the inspiration for her to use gouache, rather than oils, for her quick garden sketches.  They are remarkable for their quality and freshness.

In 1919, Peterson accompanied Louis Tiffany on a transcontinental painting expedition, to Alaska and the Canadian Northwest, in his private railway car.  Her extensive travel, which included painting trips to points along the eastern seaboard, the West, and the Eastern Mediterranean, provided colorful subjects for the art's canvases.

Traveling and painting with Tiffany, Sorolla, Childe Hassam, and Maurice Prendergast, Peterson's art entourage was influential, powerful, and impressive.

7.  During World War I, Peterson painted war-oriented subjects that were exhibited, sold, or donated to promote Liberty Loans and the American Red Cross efforts.

This is one of my favorites . . . 

Reading at a Cafe, c. 1920

8.  In 1937, the American Historical Society named Jane Peterson the Most Outstanding Individual of the Year.  She was only the second woman to receive this honor.  In all her work, from landscapes to still-lifes, she blends traditional approaches to painting with the influences of the Impressionists, Post-Impressionists, Expressionists, and the Fauves.

At the height of her career, Jane Peterson's style may be described as "brightly hued, painterly, Post-Impressionist.  Peterson was well known for her Gloucester harbor scenes, Venetian vignettes, New York subjects, and her exotic Orientalist paintings of North Africa and Constantinople.  She is also well known for her vivid, richly-painted floral still lifes, and her beach scenes, created along the Massachusetts coast.

At the Beach

Because of her unique palette, energetic brushwork, and appealing subjects, Peterson was, and still is, one of the most sought-after painters in the art world.  She is still admired and praised for developing her individualistic style, intermingling bold color combinations with creatively unique designs -- masterfully rendered in oil, watercolor, or gouache.

9.  In 1925, Peterson married one of her art patrons, Mortiz Bernard Philipp, a lawyer who was 25 years her senior.  At Rocky Hill, their summerhouse in Ipswich, Massachusetts, Peterson completed many floral, beach, and pier scenes. 

After her husband's death, Peterson resumed her studies and travels around the world.  She would winter in Florida, and then spend the other seasons in Europe and New York.  She was very adventurous and fiercely independent and did not mind traveling alone.

After her husband passed away, she studied with a more modern painter, Andres Lhote, who helped bring even more color to her floral works.

In 1939, she married her second husband, James McCarthy, a prominent New Haven physician.  But, they separated within a year, and then divorced.

10.   Peterson had over 80 one-woman exhibitions and was recognized as a uniquely talented painter of distinction.  By the 1950's, Peterson's hands had become crippled with arthritis, so she was forced to paint much less frequently -- although, she did manage to paint until her death.  She spent the last five years of her life with her niece in Kansas, until she died on August 14, 1965, at the age of 89.

Her work is today represented in the Brooklyn Museum of Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Hirshorn Museum, and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.