Tamara de Lempicka
In the 1920's in Paris, London and New York, Polish-born Tamara de Lempicka was the most fashionable portrait painter of her generation
Her notoriety and fame endure and today she is collected by modern 'celebrities' - such as Madonna
Her style has been described as 'soft' Art Deco although other critics refer to the influence of French painter Maurice Denis and the earlier nudes of Ingres
Her works are cool, clean, polished yet with an underlying sensuality that partly explains their popularity with the wealthy Parisian set who posed for her and who bought her paintings
Tamara was herself something of a beauty. She added to her society allure by being bi-sexual and notoriously active sexually - she knew Violet Trefusis, Vita Sackville-West and Colette
In Paris she was a leading figure in the Bohemian 'movement' and although married and with a young daughter, had numerous affairs
There is, however, something coy about her nude figures. Sensual, yes, but verging on elegant, soft porn - hence their appeal, no doubt.
In Ingres the languid poses are more natural, less contrived than in this (above) adaptation by Lempicka but her technical skill and seductive lines proved hugely popular with her Parisian clients and she could command high prices for her portraits of fashionable men and women
Since glamour was an essential part of her work - as indeed, it was part of her life-style - one should not perhaps look for any depth to her work
Although some claims have been made that she depicts free and independent woman within a male-dominant society, these woman are 'free' only by virtue of their wealth - and because, perhaps, they have rich and indulgent husbands
When she paints 'ordinary' women - as in this (above) strange portrait of a Mexican girl in rags, Lempicka lapses into a sentimentality that is particularly unappealing
This ghastly portrait of a weeping nun is probably one of her worst paintings. Later, as her popularity faded, she became more abstract, trying to capture (unsuccessfully) something of the originality of the Surrealists she had met in Paris
At her best - despite the 'posed' nature of her paintings and their incipient sentimentality - she was an exceptional artist 'of the moment'
Her importance lies perhaps in her remarkable ability to capture that moment in Paris between the two great wars when the rich and famous rubbed shoulders with genuinely great artists like Picasso, Miro, Braque and the Surrealists
The illustrations used above are taken from this book, available from Taschen