First Major US Retrospective of Art Deco Icon Tamara de Lempicka Premieres at the de Young in October 2024

Apr 29, 2024

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Image credit: Tamara de Lempicka, Jeune fille aux gants (Young Girl with Gloves) (detail), 1930–1931. Oil on board, 24 1/4 x 17 7/8 in. (61.5 x 45.5 cm). Centre Pompidou, Paris, Purchase, 1932, inv. JP557P.2023. Courtesy of Tamara de Lempicka Estate, LLC / ADAGP, Paris / ARS, NY

October 12, 2024 - February 9, 2025

With over 120 works on display, Tamara de Lempicka will present a new perspective on the artist, her life, her work

SAN FRANCISCO, April 29 - Through her liberal and glamorous lifestyle, artist Tamara de Lempicka (1894-1980) has become synonymous with the carefree spirit and opulence of the 1920s. Her paintings, combining a classical figural style with the modern energy of the international avant-garde, have cemented Lempicka as one of Art Deco’s defining painters, with an enduring influence on today’s pop culture landscape. Retrospective Tamara de Lempicka—the first exhibition in the United States dedicated to the artist’s full oeuvre—will reveal a new perspective on her life and design practice. In addition to her celebrated portraits, the more than 120 works on view will also include a number of rarely seen drawings, experimental still lifes from Lempicka’s early Parisian years, melancholic domestic interiors, as well as a selection of Art Deco objects, sculptures and dresses from the Fine Arts Museums’ collection that provide perspective on the artist’s process and historical context. The exhibition is co-curated by Furio Rinaldi and Gioia Mori.

“We are thrilled to present the first major retrospective of Tamara de Lempicka’s work in the United States. As one of the preeminent portrait painters of the Art Deco period, a scholarly consideration of her artistic output for a North American audience is long overdue” said Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “Considering San Francisco’s history as a great Art Deco capital of the world, the exhibition-–aptly presented in close proximity to landmarks of the period such as the Golden Gate Bridge and Coit Tower–adds to our understanding not only of Lempicka’s work specifically, but also this influential art and design period at large.”

Tamara de Lempicka unfolds chronologically in four major chapters that mark the stages in the artist’s life through her changing identity: “Tamara Rosa Hurwitz” (her newly revealed birth name), “Monsieur Łempitzky,” “Tamara de Lempicka,” and “Baroness Kuffner.” The different sections of the exhibition present the evolution of her artistic style and summarize the most prevalent themes of her work. The exhibition includes poignant and experimental still lifes from Lempicka’s early Parisian years, figural works inspired by the Russian avant-gardes, the Cubist aesthetic of her teacher, French cubist painter, André Lhote, as well as her appreciation for the work of Neoclassical painters of the 18th century like Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres.

Executed with a polished technique, the portraits on display reflect influential figures in Lempicka’s life, including her muses and lovers (poet Ira Perrot, the model Rafaëla and Marquis Guido Sommi Picenardi), portraits of her daughter, Marie-Christine “Kizette”, and her two husbands, Tadeusz Łempicki and Baron Raoul Kuffner de Dioszegh. Distinguished figures from the dazzling European and American cosmopolitan scenes of the 1920s are also featured prominently, as Lempicka was often tapped by the elite during the peak of her success to paint stately, bold and sometimes intimidating portraits. 

“The combination of varied artistic influences in Europe during the interwar period constitute the ingredients for Lempicka’s unique visual language, a captivating and unique blend of classicism and modernism,” explained Gioia Mori, exhibition co-curator, professor of Contemporary Art History and leading Lempicka scholar. “After decades of research, this exhibition constituted the opportunity to investigate Lempicka’s first sojourn in the United States in the spring of 1929. She first arrived in New York and then traveled to Santa Fe and San Francisco. In San Francisco, she exhibited in 1930 at the then-renowned Galerie Beaux Arts. Lempicka’s relationship with San Francisco continued through 1941 when she exhibited a selection of her latest works at Courvoisier Gallery on Geary.”

Research leading to the exhibition has allowed the curators to clarify crucial and unpublished biographical aspects of Lempicka’s life. The artist was born to a Polish family of Jewish descent in 1894 (and not 1898, 1900 or 1902, as she previously claimed), with the birth name Tamara Rosa Hurwitz. She moved to Russia with her family, where she married Tadeusz Łempicki in 1916. Their only daughter, Marie Christine “Kizette,” was born the same year. Despite their divorce in 1929, Lempicka continued to use her first husband’s name to sign her artworks throughout her life.

Following the turmoil of the Russian Revolution in October 1917, Lempicka fled to Paris, where she would arrive in 1919 and remain throughout the 1930s, one of the millions of refugees who dispersed throughout Europe. As an openly bisexual, cosmopolitan polyglot who had lived in various European countries, she thrived in Paris and effortlessly took on the identity and lifestyle of a transgressive, carefree and trendsetting Parisian. At the beginning of her career, Lempicka chose to sign her works using the male declination of her surname, “Lempitzky,” effectively disguising her gender and adding to the confusion surrounding her origin story. However, in later signing her work “Lempitzka” and “Lempicka” she revealed her female identity. 

Tamara de Lempicka and Tadeusz Łempicki divorced in 1929, and in 1934 she married Baron Raoul Kuffner de Dioszegh, a Hungarian-Jewish nobleman from present-day Slovakia. In February 1939, Lempicka left Paris for the United States to attend an exhibition organized in New York. This trip saved her from witnessing the tragic Nazi occupation of Poland and Paris in 1939 and 1940. During her time in the United States, Lempicka lived in Beverly Hills and New York City, eventually joining her daughter Kizette (married surname Foxhall) in Houston. Shortly after being rediscovered as an Art Deco icon in the mid-1970s, she died in her home in Cuernavaca, Mexico, in 1980.

Also featured are Lempicka’s paintings of the 1930s and late 1940s, executed upon her departure from Europe in 1939. Many of these melancholic still lives and domestic interiors are defined by a polished pictorial technique and deliberate process that Lempicka sourced from the masters of Italian and Flemish painting.

“The exhibition stems from the Fine Arts Museums’ recent acquisition of a drawing by Lempicka, a portrait of her daughter Kizette, which will be on view to the public for the first time in the exhibition. Reflective of her meticulous academic training in Paris, Lempicka’s drawings reveal both the artist’s outstanding technical refinement as a designer and her breath of visual sources, at the core of her unique style – from Italian Mannerism to the French Neoclassicism, the Russian avant-garde and the innovative graphic language of fashion illustrators like George Barbier, Helen Dryden and Georges Lepape,” shared Furio Rinaldi, exhibition co-curator and curator in charge of the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “Beyond celebrating Lempicka’s Art Deco persona, Tamara de Lempicka will reveal the artist’s layered artistic influences, demonstrating how her appreciation and knowledge of European art history informed the deliberate design process behind her memorable paintings.”

The exhibition also includes a special section on the relationship between Lempicka and fashion in the 1920s and 1930s, demonstrated through the works she produced for the German fashion magazine Die Dame - including the famous cover Self-Portrait on a Green Bugatti. This relationship is also demonstrated through garments from the Museums’ collection of costume and textile arts, with clothing produced by pioneering women designers Callot Soeurs, Madeleine Vionnet, and Madame Grès, and characterized by elegance and ease of physical movement as well as a renewed interest in the natural shape of women’s bodies. 

Lempicka embodied the independence of a dynamic type of the “New Woman,” capable of fashioning her own personality and path through stylish modes of dress. The haute couture fashions represented in Lempicka’s paintings, such as the Portrait of Ira P. or the Girl in Green, vividly capture the plurality of clothing styles available to women during the interwar era and illustrate Lempicka’s modern beauty, powerful femininity and status among the upper-class Parisians.

Opening at the de Young on October 12 and running through February 9, Tamara de Lempicka is the first scholarly museum retrospective of the artist’s work in the United States, exploring Lempicka’s artistic influences and revealing the process behind works that have become synonymous with Art Deco. After its presentation at the de Young, the exhibition will travel to Houston and be on display at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, March 9 through May 26, 2025.

Exhibition Organization

Tamara de Lempicka is organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco in collaboration with the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. 

About the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, comprising the de Young in Golden Gate Park and the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park, is the largest public arts institution in San Francisco.

The de Young museum originated from the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition in Golden Gate Park. The present copper-clad landmark building, designed by Herzog & de Meuron, opened in 2005. Reflecting an active conversation among cultures, perspectives, and time periods, the collections on view include American painting, sculpture, and decorative arts from the 17th to the 21st centuries; arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas; costume and textile arts; and international modern and contemporary art. 

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco are located on land unceded by the Ramaytush Ohlone, who are the original inhabitants of what is now the San Francisco Peninsula. The greater Bay Area is also the ancestral territory of other Ohlone peoples, as well as the Miwok, Yokuts, and Patwin. We acknowledge, recognize, and honor the Indigenous ancestors, elders, and descendants whose nations and communities have lived in the Bay Area over many generations and continue to do so today. We respect the enduring relationships that exist between Indigenous peoples and their homelands. We are committed to partnering with Indigenous communities to raise awareness of their legacy and engage with the history of the region, the impacts of genocide, and the dynamics of settler colonialism that persist today.

Media contact: 

Greta Gordon, Communications Manager, ggordon@famsf.org