RENAISSANCE AND ART DÉCO
Tamara de Lempicka, the femme fatale of Art Déco, is known above all for her sensual, expressive depictions of figures through which the spirit of the Roaring Twenties is transported to the present day. This extraordinary portrait of a young woman, to be sold at auction in Dorotheum, reflects Lempicka’s intense lifelong study of Renaissance painting.
Tamara de Lempicka (born in Warsaw, Poland, in 1898), was first exposed to Italian Renaissance painting on a trip to Italy with her grandmother in 1911. This experience was to have a lasting effect on her development as an artist. “Madame dragged her protégée through the museums of Florence, Rome, and Venice, issued forth comments and explanations, showed her Renaissance painters, explained the modelling of a cheek, the foreshortening of a hand, picture composition,
chiaroscuro, impasto. It was a journey that the young girl would never forget,” according to the catalogue of the 2004 Lempicka exhibition in London and Vienna.
Numerous journeys throughout Europe followed in subsequent decades, during which the artist repeatedly withdrew to museums to immerse herself in paintings by the Old Masters. In 1939, Tamara de Lempicka moved to New York with her Hungarian husband, Baron Raoul Kuffner. This was not only beneficial for her own psyche, but also gave a new impetus to her work as an artist. In the following years, she regularly exhibited both old and new works in America and in Europe, particularly in Paris, reflecting her desire to create continuity in her overall oeuvre while also showcasing her perfectionist techniques. At the end of the 1940s, Lempicka returned to Italy for the first time and once again drew inspiration from the art of the Italian Renaissance, creating a revival of the Italianate style in her paintings.
Her interest in all things expressive led her to observe potential subjects for her work, people whose bodies and faces featured especially clear characteristics, with the intention of integrating them into her work. She approached strangers in the street and asked them to be her models for pictures that already existed in her mind. As an artist, she was fascinated by the human body, its movement and the depiction of the ‘serpentinata’ (human figure in a spiraling pose) taken from the Italian Renaissance.
This profile painting of a girl which is to be sold at Dorotheum, is thought to be a portrait of the artist’s granddaughter, Victoria, and in it we clearly see the painter’s interest in Renaissance portraits. The sculptural quality of the face allows the girl’s physiognomy to take a backseat, focusing the viewer’s attention on the long white cloth. The white bouffant scarf, painted in various light shades, gently envelopes her head, her body and the backrest of her chair. The different shades of pink, red and brown on the girl’s body and the clothes and chair contrast sharply with the iridescent background of rich dark green. This extreme contrast makes the white scarf seem almost tangible. With this treatment of colour in the composition, Tamara de Lempicka succeeds in elevating the plasticity of the white cloth into an almost three-dimensional entity.