Born in Poland in 1898, she developed an interest in art at an early age. In 1911, she spent six months in Italy with her maternal grandmother, visiting the museums of Florence, Rome and Venice. There, Lempicka discovered the masters of the Italian Renaissance, and the experience convinced her to become a painter. She began her studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in St Petersburg while still a teen but fled to Paris at the outbreak of the Russian Revolution.
In France, Lempicka studied briefly at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Montparnasse, before moving to the Académie Ranson. Her mentors during this period included Maurice Denis and André Lhote. She quickly developed a signature, high classical style influenced by Cubism, post-war Purism and Neo-Classicism. She also returned to Italy to study the techniques of the Renaissance painters she had discovered as a youth.
Through the 1920s, she established a reputation as a leading portrait artist to the rich and sophisticated set of Paris. Her works were characterised by their precise draughtsmanship, theatrical lighting and dramatic, sensual modelling of the human body. Lempicka’s cosmopolitan style drew many commissions, such as Portrait de Marjorie Ferry, which set an auction record for the artist when it sold at Christie’s London in February 2020 for £16,380,000.
Lempicka was a savvy businesswoman. She claimed to have become a millionaire by age 28 and was a master of self-promotion. She threw lavish parties in her specially designed Art Deco apartment and studio on rue Méchain, which earned her the nickname of 'Tamara la splendide’.
She also cultivated a glamorous public persona. She posed for photographs in the latest fashions and gave revealing interviews to the press. Though her finances were affected by the Wall Street Crash in 1929, Lempicka’s determination and work ethic ensured her artistic career survived. Following a highly successful trip to New York that year, her list of clients expanded to include wealthy Europeans and Americans, who continued to buy her work through the early 1930s.
Alongside her portraits, Lempicka also created numerous paintings focusing on the nude female form, as in Les deux amies. Though her depictions of these women were classically idealised, they remained strikingly modern characters.
She moved to America in 1939, settling first in Los Angeles, before moving to New York. Within a few years her reputation faltered, and her extravagant portraits went out of style. After World War II, Lempicka experimented with religious themes, still-lifes and decorative paintings that bordered on Abstraction. Following her death in 1980, her ashes were scattered in the crater of the Popocatepetl volcano in Mexico, as per her wishes.
Portrait d'une jeune fille rousse (recto ); Étude abstraite ( verso )