Painted in 1931, as Tamara de Lempicka reached the height of her fame both as an artist and as a prominent figure within the dazzling, riotous world of the so-called années folles, Femme à la colombe encapsulates the Polish-born artist’s unique form of portraiture. Here, the model clutches a dove, a symbol of peace and love, having served as the messenger of love and desire for the goddess Aphrodite. This motif had appeared in several of Lempicka’s portraits, including Nu à la colombe (Blondel, no. B.104) and Myrto (Blondel, no. B.118). While these earlier works of 1928 and 1929 respectively, portray the dove in flight, as if reaching the figures with its message of love, in the present work, the bird lies lifeless in the figure’s arms, poignantly suggesting as Alain Blondel has written, "that the love message was not heard" (A. Blondel, Lempicka Catalogue Raisonné, 1921-1979, Lausanne, 1999, p. 497).
The unidentified, blonde-haired and blue-eyed model in this portrait is defined by her gaze out of the picture plane. With her flawless visage framed by tumbling blonde curls and her head gently titled so to bathe in the glowing light that falls from an unseen source, the figure’s eyes stare intensely upwards in this pose of feminine elegance. This expression, described by Gioia Mori as the "eyes gazing heavenward" motif, was a theme that Lempicka frequently returned to in her female portraits. Beginning in 1924 with Le voile vert (Blondel, no. B.37), this pose was inspired primarily by religious art, particularly the depictions of the Virgin or Mary Magdalene. However, as with so much of Lempicka’s portraiture, her sources were wide and varied, and this seductive female gaze, at once innocent and alluring, was at the time frequently seen in the world of contemporary cinema, both in the films themselves, and used by actresses in their press shots. As Mori has written, "Her primary sources of inspiration were undoubtedly sacred paintings… But later on she probably found the world of cinema offered her new models to draw on, starting with Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), in which an intense Maria Falconetti makes strong use of this pose, or Alexandre Volkoff’s Casanova (1927), in which it is employed by Diana Karenne. It was a shot that was commonly used in cinema of the age, first as a physical means to express emotions that were otherwise mute, later as a form of empathic communication with the viewer, to create a poignant and engaging message" (G. Mori, ed., Tamara de Lempicka, The Queen of Modernism, exh. cat., Rome, 2011, p. 23). This pose combined a sense of female innocence with a knowing and conscious allure. As with many of Lempicka’s portrayals of women, beyond the idealised visions of female beauty is an underlying strength, independence and resilience. In Mori’s words, "What Lempicka imitated was the Garbo model, a glamorous woman who concealed unusual strength and perseverance behind long eyelashes and alluring looks" (G. Mori, ibid., p. 41).