Tamara de Lempicka
| Oil on panel|
| 35 cm × 27 cm (13 (3/4) in × 10 (5/8) in)|
Private Collection, Switzerland
Tamara de Lempicka artwork, Self-portraits
Autoportrait (Tamara in a Green Bugatti) is a self-portrait painting done by Polish artist Tamara de Lempicka. This oil-on-panel, painting was one of her signature smaller portraitures but gained her reputable titles in the art world such as “baroness with a brush”, “modern Venus”, “female painter of females”, and more. In many of her paintings, including Autoportrait, there is a presence of alluring Caravaggesque lighting and a perfect balance of both delicacy and strength as if her subjects were painted with a sculptor’s eye. In 1929, after having the painting published as the cover of Die Dame, a German fashion magazine; her self-portrait became known as the “hymn of the modern woman” for it would inspire the imagery of an emancipated woman.
Autoportrait (Tamara in a Green Bugatti) Wikipedia
Tamara was surrounded by a life of leisure, growing up in an aristocratic family in Warsaw, Poland. As a child, she traveled around Italy and St. Petersburg with her aunt and was inspired by art exhibitions she found there. Always having her passion for painting by her side, she found life to be more comfortable as a young house wife and focused her attention on her new Russian husband Tadeusz de Lempicki. However, plans changed dramatically whenever the Bolshevik party came to power in Russia around 1917. Her husband Tadeusz was arrested by Cheka forces and Tamara spent weeks trying to locate him, successfully rescuing him after her toiling search. While fleeing from the civil chaos in Russia, Tamara and Tadeusz (along with her newborn daughter Kizette) found themselves in a pack of other Russian émigrés in Paris, France. After settling in Paris in 1918, Tamara decided to “follow the hunger” and began studying painting to transform her passion into a profession.
At first glance, the glacial stare of Tamara de Lempicka immediately becomes the center of attention in Autoportrait. As the rest of her body moves forward with speed and flowing electricity, she takes a moment to look the viewers in the eye to convey her emancipation from the ordinary household women status. She displays classic 1920s femme fatale features such as bold red lips, sharp facial features and well-groomed eyebrows. In this portrait she not only reflected how she sees herself but how society sees the modern woman in mass media. She paints herself as the precedent of commercialism in a fashionable way with an artificial format, propping her body on the green Bugatti as though she is a mannequin. Tamara repainted the same composition twice between 1974-1979.
A term to be familiar with when it comes to Tamara de Lempicka’s work is the word garçonné, the French interpreted word for “bachelor girl”. In further definition, garçonné is a term for the modern working-class woman in this time period, and defines a new category for women both in social and literary context. It is important to notice that Tamara’s architecture of the female figure is delicate but strong. In Autoportrait, as well as Tamara’s other paintings, women are polished with beauty but have the strength to hold themselves up alone, a concept highly favored by the femme fatale movement. In Tamara’s self-portrait, she is deconstructing the traditional sense of women and reconstructing the body of woman with power, mobility, and dominance of a male presence. The Green Bugatti acts as though it is a temple surrounding Tamara’s disposition in the painting. The car’s inclusion in the work further entangles Tamara in the world of rising industrialism. In addition, Tamara’s waterfall-like scarf blends into the motion of the car, a detail that many critics say connects Tamara with the commercialism of her generation.
Tamara studied her painting skills among the prevalent art and literature movements of Avant-Garde, Neo-Cubism, Futurism, and Art Deco of the "Lost Generation". She studied at the Académie Ranson under Maurice Denis, although she only credits him for her draftsmanship skills. One of her main influences was Avant-Garde, Neo-cubist André Lhote (professor to De Lempicka at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière). André Lhote’s Neoclassical and “humanism of Cubism” (otherwise known as neo-cubism) lessons inspired Tamara’s classical composure and adds to why many of Tamara’s portraitures are built with a sculptor’s eye and the billowing drapery of Greek-like fashion. Tamara de Lempicka’s modern feel, however, is derived from a famous Futurist by the name of Filippo Marinetti. Marinetti’s Manifesto of Futurism declared that:
“the splendor of the world has become enriched with a new beauty: the beauty of speed”.
Tamara explicitly uses the Green Bugatti as a way to conquer the concept of the automobile age and “beauty of speed” in the 1920s.
A popular German fashion magazine, Die Dame, was quite familiar with Tamara’s work as far as her fashion etchings. The female editor of Die Dame encountered Tamara in Monte Carlo while the almost-divorced baroness was on vacation and commissioned De Lempicka to paint a self-portrait for an upcoming cover. Tamara took advantaged of this opportunity to paint a self-portrait and replaced her yellow Renault with a green Bugatti because she felt as though a green Bugatti appeared more elite and more beautiful. By making this self-portrait the cover of a widely distributed magazine, the ideas and beauty of Tamara’s “modern Venus” disposition cascades among the new generation of women. Her popularity through this magazine labeled her as “the hymn of the modern woman”.