During the early 1930s, Lempicka was at the height of her fame as a painter, and, at the same time, she was widely celebrated as a glamorous hostess and party-goer. The professional and social aspects of her life were inextricably intertwined; one was indispensable to the success of the other, and together enabled her to attain her own independent life-style, which was still a relatively rare achievement for a woman at that time. All of these qualities enhanced her reputation as being the leading female artist of her day. Lempicka had, in fact, become one of the most sought-after portraitists among wealthy Europeans and Americans. She could accept or refuse commissions as she saw fit. The international range of her clientele may have been even more extensive than that of Kees van Dongen, who, working in a very different style, was perhaps her chief rival for European commissions, but he had fewer American connections.
Painted circa 1930, Portrait de Madame G. explores the theme of “eyes gazing heavenward,” a motif Lempicka returned to on several occasions between 1924 and 1937. In this highly finished painting, Madame G.–whose identity remains unknown–is depicted with upturned eyes, her face illuminated by incandescent light. Referring to the present work, Gioia Mori states that, “Her primary sources of inspiration were undoubtedly sacred paintings, and indeed the works in which she first adopted this motif have a religious theme. 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 Volkoffs 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” (Tamara de Lempicka, The Queen of Modernism, exh. cat., Complesso del Vittoriano, Rome, 2011, p. 23).
The pose would often be struck outside the cinema, with numerous movie stars employing it in their press photographs, including Carole Lombard and Jeanne Harlow. De Lempicka was herself portrayed with upturned eyes and surrounded by lilies in a photograph by Camuzzi taken in 1932 (fig. 1).
Tamara with Lilies, 1932. Photograph by Camuzzi.