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Tamara de Lempicka

Maria Górska

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Tamara Łempicka (born Maria Górska; 16 May 1898 – 18 March 1980), also known as Tamara de Lempicka, was a Polish painter active in the 1920s and 1930s, who spent her working life in France and the United States. She is best known for her polished Art-Deco portraits of aristocrats and the wealthy, and for her highly stylized paintings of nudes.

Born in Warsaw, Lempicka briefly moved to Saint Petersburg where she married a prominent Polish lawyer, then travelled to Paris. She studied painting with Maurice Denis and André Lhote. Her style was a blend of late, refined cubism and the neoclassical style, particularly inspired by the work of Jean-Dominique Ingres. She was an active participant in the artistic and social life of Paris between the Wars. In 1928 she became the mistress of wealthy art collector from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Baron Raoul Kuffner. After the death of his wife in 1933, the Baron married Lempicka in 1934, and thereafter she became known in the press as "The Baroness with a Brush."

Following the outbreak of World War II in 1939, she and her husband moved to the United States and she painted celebrity portraits, as well as still-lifes and, in the 1960s, some abstract paintings. Her work was out of fashion after World War II, but made a comeback in the late 1960s, with the rediscovery of Art Deco. She moved to Mexico in 1974, where she died in 1980. At her request, her ashes were scattered over the Popocatapetl volcano.

She was born Maria Górska on 16 May 1898, in Warsaw, then part of the Russian Empire. Her father was Boris Gurwik-Górski, a Russian Jewish attorney for a French trading company, and her mother was Malwina Decler, a Polish socialite who had lived most of her life abroad and who met her husband at one of the European spas. At the age of ten, her mother commissioned a pastel portrait of her by a prominent local artist. She detested posing, and was dissatisfied with the finished work. She took the pastels, had her younger sister pose, and made her first portrait.

In 1911 her parents sent her to a boarding school in Lausanne, Switzerland, but she was bored and she feigned illness to be permitted to leave the school. Instead, her grandmother took her on a tour of Italy, where she developed her interest in art. Her parents divorced in 1912, and her mother remarried. She returned to the school in Lausanne, but to protest the remarriage of her mother, she refused to spend her holidays with her family. Instead, she spent the summer with her wealthy aunt Stefa in Saint Petersburg. There, in 1915, she met and fell in love with a prominent Polish lawyer, Tadeusz Łempicki (1888–1951). Her family offered him a large dowry, and they were married in 1916 in the chapel of the Knights of Malta in St. Petersburg.

The Russian Revolution in November 1917 overturned their comfortable life. In December 1917, Tadeusz Łempicki was arrested in the middle of the night by the Checka, the secret police. Tamara searched the prisons for him, and with the help of the Swedish consul, to whom she offered her favors, she secured his release. They traveled to Copenhagen then to London and finally to Paris, where Tamara's family had also found refuge.

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