May 31, 2004
Tamara de Lempicka

I'm watching a really rather good TV programme about Tamara de Lempicka, the woman who painted these pictures. The one on the left is apparently one of her most popular:

lempicka13.jpg   LempickaBoucard.jpg

Lempicka's determined exclusion from the official Modern Art canon began as soon as she got into her stride as a painter. She simply did not do the right things, or embody the correct ideas.

Her clientele was "bourgeois and conservative" (I'm listening to the BBC man, Andrew Graham-Dixon doing his patter), but instead of epater-ing them, she made no secret of her desire to be one of them, or rather remain one of them (what with her having been a rich Russian aristocrat who had fallen foul of the revolution).

The picture of hers I really like is the one glorifying a research chemist patron of hers, a handsomely heroic chap brandishing a test tube and standing in front of a microscope (see above). Dear oh dear. Can't glorify people like that. There is a distinct whiff of Ayn Rand about her, and I bet a lot of Randians love her.

She bombed in America, but Hollywood now loves her. A Royal Academy show of her stuff has just got under way.

Her best stuff is very distinctive. "Art Deco gems", Graham-Dixon is calling them. But she wore her marketing on her sleeve, and when her best and most natural style didn't cut it in the USA, she very visibly attempted to follow art fashion, and that is a deeply unfashionable thing to do. She even had an "abstract" phase, G-D is now saying.

Most of the art historians still hate her, but Graham-Dixon recognises the truth of it, which is that these are powerful and distinctive images. I've been meaning to blog about this woman ever since I saw a poster about the RA exhibition of her in the Underground.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:34 PM
Category: Painting