In part two of our article about Tamara de Lempicka, we will explore how her story is told, how society plays a heavy role in what is discussed about her, and what is ignored. Tamara was an impressive woman, and we will go in depth to discuss why she is often not portrayed as such by most people who write about her.
As we saw in our last article, much of her life is not discussed, her hardships in particular, and now we come to the reason why. Tamara was a woman, a bisexual woman who earned her living, and didn’t pretend she didn’t want to be rich. While classism is not something we encourage, we can be lenient considering her background; we can understand her desire to avoid poverty and enjoy luxury. She was a woman who was victimized by the Bolsheviks and lived as a poor refugee for a significant portion of her life, so when people call her materialistic, it is particularly cruel.
While she was not like the men the art scene was filled with, who pretended that earning money was something no one should ever aspire to do and taking commissions was the height of betrayal to one’s craft, while conveniently forgetting that Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci took commissions, she was not a bad person. She never committed an atrocious crime and seems to have mostly just wanted to paint and party. She is portrayed by most depictions as shallow, cruel, and downright villainous for enjoying these things. While it is correct that she enjoyed expensive things, and often focused on aesthetics instead of purpose, there is someone else who did the same who is never criticized the way she is: Oscar Wilde. While he was a writer rather than a painter, he possessed many of the supposed “bad” qualities Tamara possessed, and he receives almost no criticism for.
The reason for this is obvious; Tamara was a woman. When people look at a man being rich and loving beautiful things, they say he has good taste. When a woman does the same, they say she is shallow. It is sexism, plain and simple. No matter what Tamara did, she was criticized harshly for it, something that most women are very familiar with. She worked twelve hours a day, and people called her lazy. She worked her way out of poverty, and people called her aristocratic. She had relationships with people from a variety of backgrounds and body types, and people called her shallow. She had a difficult life filled with turmoil, and she was called spoilt. Tamara deserved better, and her legacy deserves more than what the patriarchy has made it become.
Tamara was not a perfect person, and we will never claim otherwise. She was raised with an enormous amount of privilege, though it was stripped away later in her life before she fought to get it back. But she was not cruel, she was not frivolous, and she most certainly was not ignorant. When people use these words to describe her, while ignoring the trouble she went through, they are misleading. They are telling their audience to dislike a woman without giving any reason to do so. We found ourselves reading paper after paper, thinking “what did she do?”. It was only after looking at the bare facts of her life that we realized what had happened.
Tamara was a woman, and she was a woman who did not need men. She liked men, she married two of them in fact, but she did not need them and never pretended she did. She made her own money from her work, she supported herself and her daughter, and she was able to enjoy her life even when critics were writing scathing reviews of her work.
Finally, we will mention her art. One of her most famous pieces is called “Autoportrait (Tamara in Green Bugatti),” and in this work it is a painting of her alone, staring back at the audience, in a car that is a reflection of her wealth. It is often commented that she seems the height of independence in it.
She is strong and challenging and in control, and that is a terrifying thing for a woman to be in our society. So our society promptly rejected her, she challenged the roles of gender on many different levels and was rebuffed each time harshly, and when she reached success, she was painted as a Marie Antoinette-like figure. Surprisingly, there is some truth in that comparison, even if it is unintentional. They were both women who were blamed for the economic disparity in the world, even though it was a problem that, in reality, had little to do with them, and existed long before they came into the picture. Even though there are men who did the same thing, they were both villainized for it. In Tamara’s case, just look at Scott F. Fitzgerald. There was a man living in excess and not caring about much but his own life, and he was a bad person, emotionally abusing his wife the entire time they were together. But Tamara is the one people look to and cringe at the memory of. The reason is very clearly sexism, and we as a community cannot fall into that trap. Though the queer community has a wide variety of gender identities, it is important to recognize that the women in our community, cisgender or transgender, are faced with another host of challenges in addition to the discrimination they face for being queer. It is the queer community’s job to look after one of its own, and demand that her story is painted as a full picture.
[Disclaimer: some of the sources may contain triggering material]
Moffat, C. (2008). Tamara de Lempicka. The Art History Archive. Retrieved December
Brady, H. The Raucous Life of Tama de Lempicka: An Art Deco Icon. Retrieved
Bid Network Online. Artist Spotlights: Tamara de Lempicka. Retrieved December 23
Varieras, C. Tamara de Lempicka; World Deco Diva; Underrated master of the
roaring twenties. Retrieved December 23 2016 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kiWKU0oo2t0
MacCarthy, S. (2004, May 15.) The Good Old Naughty Days. The Guardian.
Retrieved December 23 2016 from https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2004/may/15/art
Culture.pl. Tamara de Lempicka. Retrieved December 23 2016 from
Catharina, A. (2012, February 2.) Art Attack! Tamara de Lempicka Didn´t Care Who
Knew. Retrieved December 23 2016 from https://www.autostraddle.com/art-attack-spotlight-tamara-de-lempicka-134087/
Charlish, R. Royal Academy. Art Deco Icon: Tamara de Lempicka.
Retrieved December 23 2016 from http://www.culturewars.org.uk/2004-02/lempicka.htm