Tamara de Lempicka cultivated her image as an exotic aristocrat-émigré
Details about Lempicka’s early years are sketchy. What we do know is that she was born in 1898 into a family of Russo-Polish aristocrats and went to boarding school in Lausanne. In 1917 she and her husband Tadeusz were forced to flee St Petersburg and the Russian Revolution, and headed for Paris.
In the French capital she studied painting in the ateliers of Maurice Denis and André Lhote, and quickly found success. By the early 1920s her works were appearing in major Paris exhibitions, such as the Salon d’Automne and the Salon des Tuileries.
Lempicka was a canny operator. She cultivated a public image for herself as flawless as the surface of her paintings: that of an exotic aristocrat-émigré, who threw lavish parties in her three-storey apartment on rue Méchain in which the furniture was monogrammed with her initials.
Lempicka’s paintings were frequently reproduced in fashion magazines
‘Technically, Tamara de Lempicka was a very fine painter,’ says Gill. ‘Her striking use of light and shadow; the way her backgrounds complement the gorgeous fabric worn by her subjects; the attention she gave to lips, hands and hair. In this way, her paintings almost have the feel of fashion photography from that time.’
It’s perhaps no coincidence that the last time Portrait of Marjorie Ferry came to auction — in 2009, when it fetched a then record price of $4.9 million — the seller was fashion designer Wolfgang Joop.
Lempicka’s paintings were frequently reproduced in fashion magazines, such as Harper’s Bazaar and Die Dame in Germany. Her canvas La Musicienne — featuring her lover Ira Perrot, in a long blue dress playing a mandolin — appeared on the cover of the latter in April 1930. In November 2018, La Musicienne broke the artist’s auction record when it fetched $9.1 million at Christie’s in New York.