Research point: Tamara de Lempicka

The course notes ask us to:

Do some research into the work of three important women artists of the twentieth century: Hannah Höch (1889–1978), Tamara de Lempicka (1898–1980) and Frida Kahlo (1907–54).

These artists produced some of the underpinning imagery for the feminist art movement and this is reflected in some of the art work produced today. Write brief notes in your learning log about the social and political conditions that made these artists communicate in the ways they did. How is this demonstrated in their work? How did these artists establish their own artistic identity?

Tamara de Lempicka

De Lempicka was a successful painter whose style is most closely associated with the Art Deco movement of the 1920s – the geometric, bold and celebratory art style that extended beyond painting and into architecture, interior design, jewellery and fashion. Whilst it drew visual inspiration from art movements such as Cubism, Futurism and Bauhaus, and coincided with more politically-motivated movements such as Dadaism and Constructivism in other parts of Europe, Art Deco was an unashamedly exuberant, glamorous design style – think of the Roaring Twenties, Great Gatsby-style.

De Lempicka was high-born and well-educated, and fitted well into the society that she depicted. Alongside her self-evident artistic skill she is noted for her assertive feminine confidence, refusing to let ingrained sexism hold her back and embracing the opportunities that the inter-war years offered in affluent parts of western Europe.

Her portraits of women depict them as strong and formidable, even (especially) when nude. She is an early example of the female artist addressing and subverting the male gaze; her subjects often stare directly back to the viewer. By many accounts she had a voracious libido, and like Höch she was bisexual; the sexual energy in her work is one of her hallmarks.

One of her most famous works is the self-portrait Tamara in the Green Bugatti (1925), which depicts her in the driving seat of a powerful automobile, staring at the viewer – a potent symbol of her refusal to live by feminine stereotypes.

Tamara in the Green Bugatti, 1925 – Tamara de Lempicka

It’s unclear whether she considered herself overtly feminist in the same way as Höch appeared to, but her contribution to feminism is clear: she was a highly successful female artist in a traditionally male-dominated world, and she depicted strong, sexually confident women in her paintings. The modern era her work most resembles is very much the 1980s – optimistic, ambitious, strident; it’s little surprise that Madonna is one of the biggest collectors of her work.

Sources (accessed 31/03/2015) (accessed 31/03/2015) (accessed 31/03/2015)


4 thoughts on “Research point: Tamara de Lempicka

  1. Catherine 31 March 2016 / 15:27

    A definite plus for the feminists. She looks a bit like Madonna as well!


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