Lempicka began to publicly exhibit her paintings in the Salon d'Automne and Salon des Tuileries in 1922. She took advantage of the growing interest in women who were entering the arts following the First World War, and 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 K. de Lempicka-Foxhall, Passion by Design: The Art and Times of Tamara de Lempicka, New York, 1987, p. 53).
Painted in 1940-1941, La Sagesse, or “Wisdom,” takes its inspiration from the Old Masters, all the while exuding Lempicka’s signature style. According to Alain Blondel, “The layout and type of figure in this painting bring to mind work by the Flemish painter Quentin Metsys. Lempicka would subsequently make several replicas of this work.” In addition to two preparatory drawings, Lempicka painted the present subject, La Sagesse, a total of five times. The present work is the first in the series, the most highly finished, and the only one painted on panel (the rest are on canvas).
Lempicka's ability to seamlessly blend a brashly contemporary look with historical models marked her distinctive style from the outset of her career. Lempicka's daughter, Kizette, has pointed out that her mother's painting "was an advertisement for the age," while the artist nonetheless maintained an "adamant insistence on the old masters in art" (quoted in L. Claridge, Tamara de Lempicka: A Life of Deco and Decadence, New York, 1999, p. 96). This fusion of the old and the new, of popular current style and the high art of the grand European tradition, echoes Charles Baudelaire's description of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres' aesthetic program, which the poet-critic understood as a "provocative, adulterous liaison between the calm solidity of Raphael and the affectations of the fashion plate" (quoted in P. Bade, Lempicka, New York, 2006, p. 41).