Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France
"I am sitting in the
Grand Hotel in Monte
Carlo. The American
Andy Warhol comes in.
'Sit down, Warkho\,'I
say. He is a little man
with white hair and a gray
face. He has a dirty shirt
and no expression. He
sits. Soon there are two,
eight, twenty people
around. He says nothing,
then he sees the picture
from my catalogue tyhe
award-winning La Communiante, painted in
1929]on the table. He
says, 'Who painted this? It
is wonderful, marvelous.'
He holds it to his heart. 'I
must know who has
painted this,' he says. He
is always very dramatic
and exaggerated. 'Me,'I
"It is my table. I must
be polite, so I ask all of
these people 'Wouldyou
like a drink, some ice
cream?' And I order it.
"Afterward I go to pay.
The captain says all has
been taken care of. 'But by
whom?' I say. These
people were at my table.
There must have been over
twenty of them. 'Twenty-
two,'he says. 'Mr. Warhol
paid for everything.' "
there was nothing there for me," the
baroness says. "And so we went to Paris."
Paris in 1918 was overrun with upper-
class refugees from Russia who suddenly
found themselves impoverished. Some,
like the Czar's cousin, Grand Duke
Gabriel Constantinovich, who later posed
for Lempicka, refused to work. Fortunately, he was supported by his mistress, an emigree ballerina. Others became
models in the fashion houses or lived
frugally on the income from the sale of
salvaged jewelry. Life was difficult for
the Lempitzskis. They lived with their
baby daughter, Kizette, in a small, one-
bedroom apartment in an unfashionable
quarter of the city.
The situation eventually proved too
much for Thadeus Lempitzski, who left
for Poland and never returned.
"After my husband left, I was alone in
Paris with a small daughter to support. I
was so depressed. One night at a party I
went into a small room by myself. I
suddenly began to cry and cry. My sister
came in. I said, 'What can I do? I have no
job. I will not be un mannequin, I have
no money. What am I to do?' She said,
'You can work. You can^paint.' And so I
"I studied for a short time at the
schools of Maurice Denis and Andre
Lhote. There were many pupils. The lessons were cheap. Mostly I painted at
home in my small living room. I was
fortunate: it had a good north light.
I lived in the artists' quartier where everyone was very avant-garde. Everyone was
revolting, themselves against the conventions. Everyone did something new.
This was the time for such things.
"One night in the Brasserie Coupole,
a cafe for artists (there were two - this
was the better), Marinetti, the Italian who
was a futurist, was making a speech. He
is in the front at a long table. I am a
young artist. I sit beside him very quietly.
He speaks about how we artists are enslaved by the past, how the conventions
are keeping us prisoner. He becomes more
and more excited. He jumps on the table.
The whole cafe is listening. He says that
until we destroy the art of the past, there
can be no true art moderne, and therefore
we must go now to destroy the Louvre,
which is the symbol of the past. He be-
Kizette Au Balcon
Centre Georges Pompidou
One of Lempicka s first
great successes. Kizette, a
portrait of her daughter,
now Mrs. Harold
Foxhall of Houston, was
awarded the First Prize
for painting at the 1927
des Beaux Arts in Bordeaux, France.
It was acquired by the
French government in
1976 "for the people of
gins to chant, 'Burn the Louvre! Burn the
Louvre!' He shouts that we must go
NOW! I, too, am chanting 'Burn the
Louvre!' I am very excited. I look up at
him. I say 'Maestro, my little car is outside; we can use it to go to burn the
Louvre.' We all run outside — thirty,
forty people. The car is gone. The police
have taken it away for the false parking.
Instead of to the Louvre, we go all of us
to the police station, where I must
produce papers to free my car. Marinetti
is very quiet. We have lost the passion
to burn the Louvre."
Although she was only a young artist,
Lempicka was already well thought of.
From the time of her first major exhibit-
tions in 1923 at Paris' prestigious avant-
garde Salon des Independants and Salon
d'Automne, ' Lempicka was recognized
as un talent exceptionnel. Her Deco-
style paintings won virtually instantaneous critical and popular acclaim.
Art Deco is a term difficult to define
precisely. It is usually taken to mean the
art of the period from the Paris "Deco"
exhibition of 1925 through the beginning
of World War II.
But for the artists and craftspeople
who participated in the watershed 1925
exhibition, their work was more than just
a part of the artistic continuum. They
saw themselves as the founders of a brave
new "electrical" world. There was a widespread feeling that art as previously defined, or for that matter the world as
anyone understood it, had died in the
trenches of World War I. The sense of
social dislocation during the period was
extreme. The artistic focus was consequently narrowed to the degree that
everything not absolutely "contemporary" was banned. The past was dead.
It should be buried. Burn the Louvre!
The attitude of Art Deco's creators
could be seen in their lives as well as in
their art. For many of them, in a society
that had burned its roots, living well was,
indeed, the best revenge. The Deco
era was a time when, as one critic said,
"Two worlds met, when a style of art
came into confrontation with an art of
living." Tamara de Lempicka was the
quintessential symbol of the Deco era.
Indeed, her self-portrait, painted about
1928, has been featured at retrospectives,
even at the 1975 "Paris 1925," the
French capital's celebration of the fiftieth
anniversary of the original Deco exhibition, as the face of Deco.
A recent article in The New York
Times described her Autoportrait as
depicting a "steely-eyed goddess of the
auto age" sitting behind the wheel of a
sleek, powerful, green sports car. The
baroness laughs. "It was a little Renault,
not green, but bright yellow and black.
When I drove in it, I wore a pullover of
the same bright yellow, always with a
black skirt and hat. I was dressed like the
car and the car like me.
"One day in Monte Carlo I left the car
to go into Chanel. When I retourne I find
a note on the windscreen. No name, a
message only. It says: 'You look so wonderful in the car I would like to meet
with you.' It was signed with a woman's
name and the address of a fashionable
hotel in Nice.
"Later, when I am in Nice, I think of
the note and say, 'Why not?' I go to the
hotel and send my card with a message to
say this is about the car in Monte Carlo.
A fashionable woman greets me with
enthusiasm. She says, T did not know
before - before I thought only this
woman and her car they make such a
vision. But now, are you not Lempicka
the painter?' 'Yes, Madame, I am.'
'Well,' she says. T am the fashion
directrice for Die Dame.' This was a chic
women's magazine in Germany. 'Before I
was interested only in your look, but now
. . . would you consent to do a painting
of yourself in your yellow car for the
cover of Die Darnel
"I am a young painter. I am not wealthy. I think quickly, 'yes,' I say, and yes
again, because for this work I will be paid
twice. First by the magazine for the
reproduction, and then I will be able to
sell the painting itself. And so I did. But I
painted the car green because I prefer it
so. This is how I began with this magazine. I did many covers for them.
"Later people said that my car was a
big Bugatti, that I was very wealthy. At
this time this was not so. On the contrary, I was very poor."
But Lempicka didn't remain "poor"
for long. She soon became the most
sought-after portrait painter in Europe,
with a starting price of about 50,000
francs ($2,000 in 1925). King Alfonzo of
La Belle Rafaela
Private Collection, Paris,
"Every morning at
ten-thirty I would walk in
the Bois de Boulogne/or
my health. I would begin
to paint at first light and
continue through the day
until the light was gone. It
was necessary to have the
air to keep up my strength
and so I would make this
walk. Ten-thirty is not the
fashionable hour. In
winter there are very few
people in the park. I am
walking along, thinking
about my work, concentrating, and I become
aware of a woman walking some distance in front
of me. As she walks,
everyone coming in the
opposite direction stops
and looks at her. They
turn their heads as she
passes by. I am curious.
What is so extraordinary
that they are doing this? I
walk very quickly until I
pass her, then I turn
around and come down
the path in the opposite
direction. Then I see why
everyone stops. She is the
most beautiful woman I
have ever seen. I stop and
say to her, 'Madame, I am
a painter and I would like
you to pose for me. Would
you do this?' She says,
'Yes, why not?' and she
comes back to my studio.
"Her name is Rafaela
and she poses for me for
more than one year, for
many paintings. We talk.
She tells my many sad
stories of her life. Finally I
say to her I do not care
what you are or do, but I
will not listen further to
untruths. Either you tell
me the true stories or tell
me none at all. And she
says, 'Madame Lempicka,
the truth is that I like to
make love with men. At
night I go out to look for
men who also like to make
"I painted her in the
nude. She assumed the
pose herself on my old gray
sofa. I arranged only the
bit of cloth near her feet."
The Sunday Times
Magazine (London) has
called La Belle Rafaela
"surely one of the most
remarkable nudes of the
Spain sat for her, as did Queen Elizabeth
of Greece. American millionaires booked
her passage and paid all her expenses to
persuade her to come to paint their
In an era when movie stars were
STARS, Lempicka was their equal, a celebrity of the first magnitude. She traveled
in the highest circles of European society;
painting kings and duchesses, celebrities
and charlatans. Her name was mentioned
repeatedly in society columns, usually
prefaced by the adjectives "beautiful"
and "blonde." Her mode of dress was
noted ("Lempicka drifted by, her figure
sheathed in bottle-green satin") and was
widely imitated. Her beauty advice was
sought. ("Distinction can be achieved,"
she once told Sunday supplement readers in America. "Every woman should
During World War II she moved to
Hollywood, where she visited with
actors like Charles Boyer and Tyrone
Power, lunched with Greta Garbo and
Ronald Coleman, partied with Basil
Rathbone and invited Katherine Hepburn
to use the tennis courts at film director
King Vidor's rented Beverly Hills mansion, where Lempicka was ensconced for
the duration. But all the while she never
stopped painting, and her works were
used as drawing cards at war relief fundraisers, with even Eleanor Roosevelt's
"My Day" column noting her contributions.
But when she returned to Europe after
the war, Lempicka found that the artistic
climate in France, devastated for the
second time in thirty years, had changed
beyond all recognition. Les annees folles
were gone forever. New painters didn't
care about decorative opulence. They
painted what they saw-a gray world of
shortages and rationing and ruins. They
outlined figures in heavy black, they
depicted the tortured workings of the
mind through dark abstractions. Abstract
became the norm. The art world's course
took it further and further from the
stylized elegance of Art Deco.
Lempicka stopped exhibiting, she says,
"due to the divergent tendencies in art."
She faded from public view but still she
continued to paint.
In 1972, almost one-half century
after the birth of Deco, the Gallerie
du Luxembourg in Paris staged a major
retrospective of Lempicka's works. Their
power startled a new generation of art
critics who were unfamiliar with her
The exhibition caught the first wave of
Deco fever, the rediscovery of the aesthetic of les annees folles. The Paris show
prompted wide discussion of her work in
the European art press. Suddenly, Lempicka was famous again. Critics discussed
her technique, calling it "Quattrocentist,"
''robust, lebensvoll und stark " (healthy,
full of life, and strong), or "rivaling Dali
in technical proficiency, although his
One's opinion of Lempicka's place in
the art world depends to a great extent
on one's opinion of Art Deco itself—
whether one places the emphasis on the
art or on the decorative. Until recently,
many critics were inclined toward the latter, agreeing in principle with Burlington
Magazine's line on the 1972 Lempicka
exhibition: "They (her paintings) conjure
up everything that is meant by the word
'smart'- exclusive, up to the minute,
tinny, and second rate."
But in France, where the tradition of
Deco scholarship has progressed beyond
its infancy, the critics are more inclined
to place Lempicka higher up in the pantheon of twentieth century painters,
agreeing with Florent Fels, dean of the
French art critics, who wrote in L 'Art
Vivant about that same 1972 exhibition:
(continued on page I 7)
14 HOUSTON BREAKTHROUGH DECEMBER/JANUARY 1979
DECEMBER/JANUARY 1979 HOUSTON BREAKTHROUGH 15