The Last Nude
I learned about the artist Tamara DeLempicka not in any of my art history college courses, but through the recently published Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, each spread featuring an interesting woman you've likely never heard of. While researching her work I discovered Ellis Avery's novel The Last Nude, a fictionalized account of an affair between a 30-year-old DeLempicka and her teenage model Rafaela Fano. I am a sucker for fictitious biographies about artists. They are a guilty pleasure I don't feel very guilty about.
Real life DeLempicka was born Maria Gorska in Poland. Her first husband, Tadeusz Lempicki, was captured by Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution in 1917. Tamara is said to have "arranged" for his release, upon which they fled to France where she changed her name and reinvented herself as an artist. While mingling with the bohemian artist of 1920s Paris, she became responsible for popularizing the image of the new modern woman of this age - a bold liberated femme fatal - stylistically a mix of Italian Renaissance painting and softened cubism. She was a social climber, charming and painting wealthy clientele in trendy art deco fashion. Tadeusz left her after he must have tired of her numerous affairs with lesbians and bisexual women. They had a daughter Kizette, who was often abandoned but her occupied parents, but immortalized in her mother's work. DeLempicka married her second husband Baron Raoul Kuffner in 1933 and quit her free lifestyle for one of financial freedom and high social standing. The couple moved to the US in time to escape WWII. Her paintings fell out of fashion until the 1970s when her art was rediscovered, shortly before her death in 1980. She lived out her later years in Cuernavaca, Mexico, with a few other international expats, and her daughter Kizette.
The Last Nude selects a few important paintings and imagines their inspiration and creation. You get a little art history to pair with a pretty daydream about being seduced and discarded by the glamorous artist. After reading, I picked up the Taschen Basic Art Series volume on DeLempicka and enjoyed discovering the works I'd visualized while reading. Her work is clean, bold, and full of desire. The eyes in her portraits are provocative and hooked me in. The women feel powerful, even when nude. All are dramatic and luminous, as is Avery's romantic tale of a young girl who gets swept under the spell of this driven painter.