Design for Passion: The female form in Art Deco

The Art Deco style was the genre during the 1920s and 1930s affecting the decorative arts, fine arts, and fashion. Throughout this period it was a moment for women’s clothing fashions. The portraits of Polish-born Tamara de Lempicka elaborated on the trend as a painter of people mainly in the smart social circles in which she moved.

To represent her painting style she elaborated on distinctive streamlined elegance with a sense of chic decadence, often compared to the cubism of Leger (sometimes called Soft Cubism). She was better than anyone else at representing the Art Deco style in painting. It can be said that she is probably the most famous painter of the art deco period.

The painting style created by de Lempicka was as glamorous as her subject matter. Her instructor Andre Lhote did not realize the subtle syntheses of inspiration she portrayed. She used a trademark combination of soft, rounded forms set against architectural lines and shapes that reflected a new sophisticated urbanity to those she painted in highly mannered portraits. Her other main subjects included erotic nudes and a still life of calla lilies. Her bold technique and palette rapidly won her acclaim as the quintessential Art Deco artist.

Art Deco design was above all modern that exemplified the boundless potential of a newly industrialized world. The characterizations of Art Deco include the use of materials such as sharkskin, zebra skin, zigzag and stepped forms, bold and sweeping curves, chevron patterns, and sunburst motif. The sunburst motif was used in such varied contexts as a lady’s shoe. It was a mainstream in consumerism that was stressed in the great fashion magazines as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar to advertise the emergence of the New Woman in American society.

In Portrait of a Young Girl in a Green Dress, Tamara explicitly demonstrates her visual of the fashion of the times, sleek and seductive (Lucie-Smith). Girl in Green with Gloves, probably her most famous painting epitomizes her style showing the fabric and hair combined with sharp lines and flowing curves with the entire form strongly dimensional yet remaining abstract and modern.

The Art Deco of the 20s, with its geometric motifs and bright, bold colors superlative represents the best and purest forms of the decorative art period. Reaching its bold point between 1925 through 1935, the classical, symmetrical, rectilinear style of Art Deco, drew inspiration from other art movements such as Cubism, Futurism, and influence of the Bauhaus and became the dominant art form of Paris between 1920 through 1930. Tamara deLempicka was the artist who pursued the Arts Decoratifs style, derived from the World’s fair held in 1925, formerly titled the Exposition Internationales des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes that showcased French luxury goods.

Sexy, modern and unabashedly consumer-oriented was the new Art Deco style. Motifs were borrowed from Japan, Africa, ancient Egyptian and Mayan cultures to create novel visual effects. French pochoir prints from the glorious Art Deco era presented woman’s fashion designs in their most original era. The clothing was revolutionary from designers such as Charles Worth, Jean Patou, Paul Poiret, Lucien Lelong and Joseph Paquin.

The aesthetic of Art Deco was most radical in the late 1920s at which female stars as Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, and Myrna Loy donned lavish Art Deco fashions.

De Lempicka was a very physical person. She often slept with the people she painted or those who sat for her. They were both male and female. Her first lesbian affair was said to be with Ira Perrot who modeled for her and took her to Italy where she discovered paintings of Botticelli and Messina. It was the period of time in which she began to attend lesbian parties. Her creativeness went as far as the tasteful arrangement of food on the body of a nude woman. Thereafter, she would then slowly she eat her midnight meal (de Lempicka). The artist pursued older men as social companions but slept with younger and more handsome men. She was often seen caressing a working-class boy one night and a woman the next. Her adventures inspired her artwork.

Tamara Gorska de Lempicka was married first to Tadeusz Lempicki a Russian lawyer and socialite and then to Baron Raoul Huffner with whom she moved to America. Being a bisexual woman, de Lempicka’s works reflects a glorification of the female form and vignettes of female life.

The Orange Turban of which Tamara produced eight versions in her lifetime, shows the influence of the Dutch and Flemish masters that she absorbed while studying at the Louvre. Independent publisher Mani de Li of Modern Art – A Skeptical View, opinions that Tamara succeeds in portraits that have an aim similar to Picasso’s failures with hers being more original, complete, better drawn, colored and composed.

She had changed her style to abstract art in the 1960s. Her works were created then with a spatula with her output seemingly out of fashion. De Lempicka’s earlier works began to rise in the 1970s and by the 1990s she once again became a stylish icon. Feminism’s emphasis on unearthing sidelined women had played a part in her revitalization as well. The liberation of gay women has made her the prophetic, in -house painter of lipstick lesbianism.

Today de Lempicka’s work still is connected to Hollywood with singer/actress Madonna and actor Jack Nicholson being the most avid contemporary collectors of her paintings. Her paintings were rediscovered by the world.

De Lempicka is the true demonstrator of the female form in Art Deco painting. The icon of Art Deco ceased her works after the death of her husband in 1962. She moved to Mexico and died in her sleep in 1980 only to leave behind her ashes strewn over the crater of Mt. Popocatepetl along with her now valued works of art depicting one of fascinating periods of art history in which she displayed the liberty of the woman of her time.

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