‘At the beginning of my career, I was looking around me and could see only complete destruction in painting. I was disgusted with the banality into which art had fallen. I felt Picasso embodied the novelty of destruction. I revolted; I looked for a métier that did not exist any longer. I was working very fast and with an easy brush. I aimed at technique, métier, simplicity, and good taste. My goal: Do not copy. Create a new style, colors light and bright, return to elegance in my models’
Tamara de Lempicka, quoted in Kizette de Lempicka-Foxhall, Passion by Design: The Art and Times of Tamara de Lempicka, Oxford, 1987, pp. 52-53.
Tamara de Lempicka arrived in Paris in 1918, fleeing the Russian Revolution. Married and already a mother, she was determined to carve for herself a prominent position in the affluent, glamorous art world of the French capital. By 1926 she had succeeded, becoming one of the most sought-after portraitists of the time. Both executed in the mid-1920s, Bouteille et chou-fleur and Femme assise date from a crucial, transitional period in the career of Lempicka, in which the artist started to form the linear, sculptural style that would characterise her most memorable works.
While in Paris, Lempicka joined the art classes of Maurice Denis and André Lhote. The methodical teaching of Denis, together with the volumetric aesthetic of Lhote gave Lempicka the cues for the development of her own pictorial style. Painted respectively in 1924 and 1925, Bouteille et chou-fleur and Femme assise represent two early manifestations of Lempicka’s distinct painting aesthetics. Regrouping an odd selection of objects, Bouteille et chou-fleur is a rare, intriguing still life, displaying wonderful light effects that lend to the scene an almost hallucinatory dimension. The smoky, dark background of the composition and the emphasised roundness of the elements already foresee the most characteristic qualities of Lempicka’s future works. Executed a year later, Femme assise is an example of that sensual monumentality which the artist would famously bestow onto her models.
With their crisp lines and rotund forms, in the 1920s Lempicka’s paintings came to epitomise the style and taste of the beau monde. Although echoing, in certain regards, the period’s ‘Retour à l’ordre’ tendency, Lempicka’s style ultimately was the expression of a very personal, calculate take on painting. The artist would later explain: ‘I was the first woman who did clear painting – and that was the success of my painting. Among a hundred paintings you could recognize mine. And galleries began to put me in the best rooms, always in the center, because my painting attracted people. It was neat; it was finished’ (quoted in Kizette de Lempicka-Foxhall, Passion by Design: The Art and Times of Tamara de Lempicka, Oxford, 1987, p. 53). In 1925, Lempicka would introduce herself to the Count Emmanuele Castelbarco, who – enthusiastic about her work – organised a solo exhibition of her works at his gallery Bottega di Poesia in Milan. The event was a success, granting Lempicka access to Milan’s noble society and veritably launching her career as a sought-after, glamorous portraitist. Painted just before that seminal exhibition, Bouteille et chou-fleur and Femme assise announce the advent of Lempicka’s striking, unique style.