|Tamara De Lempicka was born Maria Gorski, in Moscow around 1895 - she preferred to claim Warsaw in 1902 - to a family of Polish-Russian aristocrats. Maria was the middle child with two siblings. She attended boarding school in Lausanne, Switzerland, and spent the winter of 1911 with her grandmother in Italy and the French Riviera, where she was treated to her first taste of the Great Masters of Italian painting. In 1912, her parents divorced and Maria went to live with her wealthy Aunt Stefa in St. Petersberg, Russia. When her mother remarried, she became determined to break away to a life of her own. In 1916 she married Tadeusz Lempicki in St. Petersburg—a well-known ladies' man, gadabout, and lawyer by title, who was tempted by the significant dowry.
They might have lived an entire life of sybaritic leisure if the Bolshevik Revolution hadn't exiled them to Paris the following year. But communism was the making of Lempicka, who discovered everything she needed for her art in 1920’s Paris, which was at the center of social, artistic, and cultural dynamism. As part of the bohemian scene, Tamara de Lempicka was in her element. She knew Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau. and André Gide. During her time in Paris, Lempicka slept with actresses, prostitutes, ambassadors and sailors. She drank gin fizzes with deposed royals, threw colossal parties where naked girls were hired as human caviare dishes and worked at least as hard on her media profile as her art. When Lempicki left her, she replaced him with Hungarian millionaire, Baron Kuffner, who doled out the money and asked nothing.
The Baron arranged her second escape, to America in 1939, where they hired King Vidor's former home in Beverly Hills before settling in a palatial duplex on New York's Fifth Avenue. Lempicka took to Manhattan with extraordinary glee, getting her name in all the gossip columns as the 'Baroness with the Brush'.
After Baron Kuffner's death from a heart attack in 1962, she sold most of her possessions and made three around-the-world trips by ship. Finally De Lempicka moved to Houston, Texas to be with her daughter Kizette and her family. Having worn out her welcome Tamara moved to Cuernavaca, Mexico, in 1978 to live among an aging international set and young aristocrats. Tamara De Lempicka died in her sleep two years later on March 19, 1980 - her ashes scattered over the volcano Popocatepetl by Count Giovanni Agusta.
Lempicka's famous 1929 self-portrait as a vamp in a green Bugatti is generally considered to epitomise the jazz-age woman; it was later used on the cover of Aldous Huxley's Point Counter Point. Forget likeness: Lempicka looks like every other one of her tubular belles. But there is a rapacity in those hooded eyes that seems to sum up the real woman, who could never have enough sex, money or fame.