Having fled from St. Petersburg with her husband at the onset of the Russian Revolution in 1917, Tamara de Lempicka began to publicly exhibit her paintings in Paris at the Salon d'Automne and Salon des Tuileries in 1922. Combining elements drawn from French Cubism, Purism and Neo-Classicism, as well as her own study of Italian Mannerist masters, and displaying her awareness of such contemporary realist trends as Neue Sachlichkeit in central Europe, Lempicka pioneered her own boldly cosmopolitan classical-realist style. Hers was an ideal manner for the expression of the liberated assertiveness and opulence of the Parisian post-war années folles, the fabled Jazz Age. Her paintings were aggressively modern in sensibility, and their appeal to the new social elite of her day was no doubt due in large part to their overt sensuality. Encouraging the notion that physical beauty was reflective of personal empowerment and success, Lempicka capitalized on the social ideals of this well-heeled and influential class, which did not hesitate to pursue its passions, but had the good taste to moderate them through the exercise of accomplished formality, self-discipline and dedicated professionalism.
Lempicka took advantage of the growing interest in women who were entering the arts following the First World War, and indeed, strongly believed that she stood out among them. She later wrote:
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 the 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 Passion by Design, the Art and Times of Tamara de Lempicka, op. cit., p. 53).
Lempicka's teachers in Paris were Maurice Denis, the Nabi painter who turned to the Italian quattrocento in the early years of the century, and André Lhote, the cubist who followed the "call to order" following the war and worked within the ethos of the new classicism. From Denis, Lempicka learned the art of precise draftsmanship and acquired an affinity for the Italian primitives, whose work she studied during her stay in Italy in 1925. She took from Lhote the principle of the "plastic metaphor," in which the shapes and volumes of the human form were based on abstract, geometric forms. Lhote had admired this idealized approach in the work of Ingres, and Lempicka was likewise drawn to this tendency, which expressed the clarity she sought in her work.
ILe turban vert exemplifies the ever-present ambiguity of Lempicka's subject matter. The two women depicted, though entwined in a tender pose, refuse to convey a legible expression of emotion. The intense cool gaze of the turban-clad woman at left may be read as challenging or dismissive, while her languorous companion avoids eye contact with the viewer altogether, gazing dreamily to her right. The composition is unusual in its depiction of two figures rather than one--manifesting her preference for compositions which were entirely free of context and emotion, Lempicka typically preferred to paint single portraits. Ingried Brugger has noted, "The overall aspect of the figures in de Lempicka's work is distinctly asocial. Rarely do they appear with attributes that could draw them into an activity..." (quoted in Tamara de Lempicka: Art Deco Icon, exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London and Kunstforum, Vienna, 2004-2005, p. 36).
In describing her mother's oeuvre, Kizette de Lempicka-Foxhall has observed:
What she painted had a smooth polish, an icy perfection that detached her subjects from reality, that made them archetypal...The style that glossed over the hunger was meant less to hide desire than to make one notice it. The chill was part of the seduction (in Passion by Design, the Art and Times of Tamara de Lempicka, New York, 1987, p. 84).