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The Collection of Jerry Moss

Fillette en rose

Fillette en rose
signed 'DE LEMPICKA' (lower right)
oil on canvas
45 5⁄8 x 28 5⁄8 in. (115.9 x 72.8 cm.)
Painted circa 1928-1930
Boris Kitchen, San Francisco (acquired from the artist, then by descent); sale, Sotheby's, New York, 5 November 1982, lot 279.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.
A. Blondel, Tamara de Lempicka: Catalogue raisonné, 1921-1979, Lausanne, 1999, p. 216, no. B.130 (illustrated in color).
Sale room notice
Please note that this painting has been requested by the de Young Museum, San Francisco, and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, for their forthcoming exhibition Tamara de Lempicka to be held from September 2024-June 2025.

Brought to you by

Emily Kaplan
Emily Kaplan Senior Vice President, Senior Specialist, Co-Head of 20th Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Between 1922 and 1933, Tamara de Lempicka painted six different portraits of her daughter Marie-Christine de Lempicka, known as Kizette. Capturing the young girl between the ages of six and sixteen, these were to be some of the most celebrated paintings of the artist’s career, and the works that brought Lempicka international renown. Examples of these paintings are held in the Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (Blondel, B.82) and the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes (Blondel, B.81), the latter of which inspired a second incarnation, Fillette en rose, an intimate portrait of a girl on the verge of change and one of profound importance to Lempicka.
Kizette was born in Saint Petersburg on 16 September 1916, shortly after Lempicka’s marriage to Tadeusz Lempicki. In the autumn of 1917, the family was forced to flee Russia after the Bolsheviks stormed the Winter Palace during the October Revolution. A circuitous journey brought them to France, and they arrived in Paris in the summer of 1918, dispossessed and reliant on the generosity of wealthy relations. Once she realized her husband had no plans to seek work, Lempicka enrolled in classes at the city’s Académies Ranson and de la Grande Chaumière, selling her first paintings within just a few months. Her earliest canvases were expressionistic, filled with dense accumulations of pigment, as she endeavored to translate the lessons of her two principal teachers Maurice Denis, the famed Nabi painter, and André Lhote through her own unique idiom.
Lempicka’s earliest known portrait of Kizette was painted around 1922 and shows her daughter in a blue dress with her arm around a teddy bear (Blondel, no. B.9; Private collection). The young girl stares straight ahead as if posing for a studio photograph, a stillness which belies Lempicka’s rapid, demonstrative brushwork. She would soon abandon the densely applied paint and impasto surface of such works in favor of smoother, less gestural brushwork. By the late-1920s, when Fillette en rose was created, her idiom had been radically reconceived.
Indeed, refracting Neoclassicism through an Art Deco lens, Lempicka’s paintings were sleek, cosmopolitan, and wholly modern. Fillette en rose shows Kizette playing the role of a fashionable young ingénue who, inclining her head somewhat coquettishly, brazenly meets the viewer’s gaze. Sporting blond, stylishly cropped hair and a suntan, Kizette is dressed in a pale pink dress and white Maryjane shoes, one of which has fallen off. With its industrial pleats and dropped waistline, the dress is the height of contemporary Parisian fashion. Owing to her outfit and bronzed countenance, the painting feels warm and summery, a scene staged during a vacation. Further supporting this is the parade of ships in the background whose design was likely inspired by contemporaneous travel posters.
Particularly evident in Fillette en rose is Lempicka’s reimagining of Lhote’s teachings, which stressed the simplification of volumes and the importance of visual clarity. He strove to “marry the decorative with the avant-garde experiments of Braque and Gris,” to create, what he called, a “plastic metaphor” (quoted in K. de Lempicka-Foxhall, Passion by Design: The Art and Times of Tamara de Lempicka, London, 1987, p. 45). This can be seen in Kizette’s arms, legs, and hair wherein the curvilinear forms stand out against the angular grey hues that constitute the background geometries. Although ostensibly a familial portrait, Fillette en rose conveys a sense of monumentality, in part owing to the tightly cropped composition. Recalling the movie posters that papered the streets of Paris, Kizette, too, appears to be larger than life.
As much as this is a staged painting, Fillette en rose possesses a sense of vitality that was often absent in more traditional portraits of children, where the sitters were posed like adults in miniature. Far from playful or unrehearsed, conventional depictions showed children posed stiffly amongst the trappings of an aristocratic life. It was not until Impressionism that leisure and play were elevated as subjects, which in turn influenced portraiture. Indeed, some of the more animated images of the era were those that the artists painted of their own families. Lempicka imbues her portrait of Kizette with personality, with life, and the clutched book and missing shoe bring a dynamism to the painting, reflecting the intimacy mother and daughter shared.
Accordingly, when the sister painting to Fillette en rose—titled Kizette en rose—was first shown publicly in 1927, the critical response to Lempicka’s portrait was triumphant. The artist-critic Félix Labisse, noting Lempicka’s “complex arrangement” of colors, wrote that, in this portrait, “everything stands out; everything lives” (“Exposition de la peinture moderne, Explication” in Le Carillon, 6 August 1927, n.p.). He went on to observe that “the face of this child has an internal, vital force” (ibid.). Following its exhibition in Nantes, Kizette en rose was called “a masterpiece of expression, truth, grace” (J. Teallendeau, “Notes d’art. Exposition à la Galerie Decré” in Populaire, 18 January 1928). Several deemed it a tour de force, and the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes, moved quickly to purchase the painting. While this was an extremely prestigious acquisition and an important opportunity for the young artist, Lempicka appears to have been saddened at the thought of parting with the work. As a result, she created a second version—the present work, Fillette en rose—which she could keep for herself, making small adjustments to her daughter’s posture and the color palette to bring a new softness to Kizette.
In subsequent years, Lempicka’s subject matter diversified, yet she continued to paint Kizette, often dressed in the guise of various characters including a devout communicant, a Polonaise in traditional garb, and a sleeping nymph (Blondel, nos. B.102, La Piscine—Musée d'art et d'industrie André Diligent de Roubaix; B.174, Private collection; and B.182, Private collection). Modeling guaranteed Kizette time with the gregarious and fashionable Chérie, as she called her mother, and the hours they spent together in the studio anchored their relationship, even as Lempicka became increasingly devoted to her art and social calendar. “It was a reckless, adventuresome, exhilarating time for her,” Kizette later remembered. “The Polish girl of good family, the child bride, the émigré wife, the young mother disappeared behind her paintings, as if they were screens in a star’s dressing room, and out the other side emerged the glamorous, sophisticated—if not decadent—modern beauty” (op. cit., 1987, pp. 41 and 43).

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