From the Vault: Tamara de Lempicka

Une Jeune Fille Bretonne, 1975, Oil on canvas, 13 x 11 inches

As a leading portraitist of the Art Deco movement in the 1920s through the 1930s, Tamara de Lempicka is truly a force representing women’s contribution to art.. Her strong will, extraordinary life, and drive for all things avant-garde kept her in the spotlight for most of her life. Lempicka’s technique was elegant and precise, echoing aspects of Cubism, Futurism, and the Bauhaus. Some of her most famous paintings include, Autoportrait, painted in 1929 and Andromeda, painted in 1927, a likeness of the infamous Greek princess.

Born into a wealthy family as Maria Górska in Warsaw in 1898, Lempicka attended boarding school in Switzerland. In 1911, she took an extended trip to Italy and the French Riviera with her grandmother, who introduced her to museums and the great Italian Masters. In 1912, her parents divorced and Lempicka relocated to St. Petersburg where she attended St. Petersburg State Academic Institute of Fine Arts and was trained in various styles. As a young beautiful woman, Lempicka attracted many suitors, including Count Tadeusz de Lempicka, who she married at the age of 18. At the onset of the Bolshevik Revolution, the Count was arrested and Lempicka, after several weeks, was able to secure his escape. The couple fled with their young daughter to Paris. It was in Paris where Lempicka began her career in the arts and established her socialite status.

Not long after arriving in Paris, Lempicka continued to study at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière under the tutelage of André Lhote, a cubist artist of the time. Her first solo show was in Milan in 1925, where she completed twenty-eight paintings in a six month period. After the show, Lempicka became the most fashionable portraitist of her generation, painting the aristocracy and socialites of Europe, as well as showing in elite salons and charging $2,000 per painting.

Famous for her libido, Lempicka was bisexual and often had scandalous affairs. Her paintings were a mirror for her sexual escapades, reflecting the cool, sensual side of the Art Deco movement. Her activities and neglect for her family led to her divorce in 1928. Kizette, her young daughter, was the subject of many of her paintings during her lifetime, even though they had a strained relationship. In 1929, Lempicka painted Autoportrait for the German fashion magazine, Die Dame. The painting became synonymous with the image of the confident, independent woman of the 1930s.

Shortly thereafter, Lempicka became involved with longtime patron Baron Raoul Kuffner, traveling to America with him to show at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh. The couple married in 1933 and relocated to Beverly Hills, CA in 1939, settling into a Garbo-esque lifestyle. She continued to paint throughout WWII in her signature style, yet her work became more abstract, and she replaced a brush with a palette knife as the years progressed.

Lempicka exhibited new paintings for the last time in 1962, the same year her husband died, and vowed to never paint again as the show was not well received. She moved to Texas to be with her daughter and her presence in the art world was overlooked until her 1972 retrospective at the Galerie du Luxembourg. This exhibition brought a resurgence of her work to the public and her return to painting personally.

Lempicka spent her final years in Cuernavaca, Mexico, where she died in 1980. Her personality and impact on the history of women’s art has yet to be forgotten and her paintings of the 1920s and 30s are an unmistakable example of the sleek, stylistic forms of the Art Deco movement. Une Jeune Fille Bretonne, painted in 1975, is part of NMWA’s collection and showcases the more abstract style of Lempicka’s late career.

Ali Printz is currently an intern in the Library and Research Center at NMWA

From the Vault: Lola Alvarez Bravo

De Generación en Generación, ca 1950. Gelatin silver print. 9 x 6 1/8 inches. Gift of the artist.

Lola Alvarez Bravo was a pioneer of the photography movement and perhaps the first professional Mexican woman photographer. She shattered stereotypes by pursuing her dream from behind a camera lens and was associated with and photographed the most famous artists of her day, such as Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, Maria Izquierdo, Alfaro Siquieros, and Frida Kahlo. Bravo was a key figure in the cultural renaissance that followed the Mexican Revolution, becoming a positive role model for women artists and gaining international attention for her intimate portraits of Frida Kahlo.

Dolores Martinez de Anda was born in the small city of Lagos de Moreno in Jalisco, Mexico, in 1907 to a wealthy family. Orphaned at a young age, she moved to Mexico City to live with her half brother and met their neighbor, Manuel Alvarez Bravo. In 1925, Lola married Manuel and moved to Oaxaca where Manuel pursued a career in photography and Lola became his assistant. Manuel taught her about photography and she began to capture her own imagery. The couple returned to Mexico City in 1926 before the birth of their son. Heavily influenced by their new friend Edward Westin and his mistress Tina Modotti, an amateur photographer, Bravo was inspired to pursue photography professionally. In 1931, Manuel and Lola won first and second prizes, respectively, at the Exhibición Nacional de la Pintura y la Fotografía, a significant accomplishment for both.

In 1934, Lola separated from her husband, maintaining her married name and began a solo career spanning more than fifty years. She received her first commission in 1936 photographing the choir stalls of a former church, which subsequently led to magazine work with El Maestro Rural, Hoy, and Rotofoto. Bravo dove into photojournalism, portraiture, as well as photomontage, focusing on the cultural life and social problems of Mexico. She moved into an apartment in Mexico City with painter Maria Izquierdo, who led her into many budding artistic circles. In 1944, Bravo held her first solo exhibition at Mexico City’s Palace of Fine Arts. She also taught photography at the esteemed Academía de San Carlos. From 1951 to 1958, Bravo directed her own gallery in Mexico City and in 1953 organized Frida Kahlo’s only solo exhibition in Mexico during Kahlo’s lifetime. Lola had a major retrospective in 1992 in Mexico City, but had stopped making work by then due to failing eyesight. Bravo died in 1993, but her body of work and defiance of social norms will never be forgotten.

Ali Printz is currently an intern in the Library and Research Center at NMWA

From the Vault: Bertha Lum

May Night, 1913. Wood engraving on paper. 8 3/8 x 9 3/4 inches (22 x 25 cm). Gift of Mrs. Jefferson Patterson

Bertha Lum, a printmaker and illustrator fairly unknown to women’s art history, features traditional Asian motifs and flat lines in her artwork, but with a distinctive style coveted by critics and collectors from both the East and the West. Born in 1869 in Typton, Iowa, as one of four children, Lum was privy to modest beginnings. Between 1895 and 1869 and again from 1901 to 1902 she took courses at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in figure drawing, design, and illustration. Lum married in 1903 to a wealthy Minnesotan and decided to honeymoon in Japan to satisfy her curiosity for Japanese color woodcuts. While in Japan, Lum purchased low quality woodblock printing supplies and began to produce her own prints when she returned to the United States.

Several years later, Lum traveled to Japan again and apprenticed with Japanese craftsmen, including an engraver and printermaker, over the course of several months. When she returned to America, she began to sell and show her artwork. In 1912, Lum became the only Westerner to exhibit her work at Tokyo’s Annual Art Exhibition. In 1915, she was awarded one of four silver medals at the prestigious Panama Pacific International Exposition. Lum also became the first American woman artist to have her artwork acquired by the British Museum. Lum took her daughters Eleanor and Catherine on several extended vacations to China and Japan. She divorced in 1917 and took up residence in California, where she established a clientele and lived comfortably earning five hundred dollars per month from sales of her artwork. Between 1924 and 1927, Lum diversified her work and began making screens, a technique she learned in Beijing in the early 1920s.

After 1937, Lum’s eyesight began to deteriorate, ending her ability to make prints. The last years of her life were spent in China, but in 1953, she moved to Genoa, Italy to be with her daughter Catherine. Bertha Lum died in 1954, at the age of seventy-five. Undoubtedly, Lum opened many doors for other women artists reproducing Asian prints in the early twentieth century. NMWA has two of Lum’s engravings in the collection.

 Ali Printz is currently an intern in the Library and Research Center at NMWA

From the Vault: Kay Sage

NMWA’s collection includes more than 4,000 works, but due to limited gallery space and preservation guidelines, less than two hundred works are on view. This month, Broad Strokes will be presenting a new “From the Vault” blog series to highlight works which, although currently not on display, are an integral part of NMWA’s collection. Talented painters, printmakers, sculptors, and multimedia artists will be featured and remembered for their contributions to the arts.

Kay Sage is one of the most prominent women associated with the Surrealist movement. A painter, collagist, and poet, she was well known for her abstract, architectural motifs. Her landscape paintings, with sharp edges and invisible brushwork, give the viewer a sense of isolation and abandonment. Sage was born in 1898 in Albany, New York, to a wealthy senator father and aristocratic mother. Her parents divorced early on and Sage traveled throughout Europe as a child with her mother. From 1914 to 1918, she attended the Corcoran School of Art in D.C., then studied painting and drawing in Rome at the British Academy and the Scuola Libera delle Belle Arti in 1920.

In 1925, Sage married Prince Ranieri di San Faustino and lived with him in Rome. During this time, she rarely painted and grew tired of her aristocratic prison, eventually separating from her husband in 1935. In 1936, Sage had her first solo exhibition in Milan at the Galleria del Milione. Drawn to Surrealism, Sage gravitated to Paris in search of her heroes Yves Tanguy and Giorgio de Chirico. Although at first she was shunned by the Surrealist circle, by 1938 she had become an active member. At the onset of World War II, Sage fled Europe with Tanguy, with whom she had begun a love affair. The couple settled in New York City where Sage began organizing exhibitions of Surrealist work from France. In 1940, Tanguy and Sage married and moved to Woodbury, Connecticut, setting up individual studios and continuing to exhibit in New York.

In 1955, Tanguy died, causing Sage to go into a severe depression. She became reclusive, started to lose her vision, and stopped painting, although she continued to make small collages. Between 1957 and 1962, Sage also published four books of poetry. In 1963, Sage committed suicide in her Connecticut home. Her legacy to art history and Surrealism will never be forgotten and her work continues to mystify.

Ali Printz is currently an intern in the Library and Research Center at NMWA