You are currently viewing Madonna and Barbra Are Fans. Broadway, Meet Lempicka.

Madonna and Barbra Are Fans. Broadway, Meet Lempicka.

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Painting had always intrigued her, and after a few years of study, she began to exhibit her work. Quickly she became an in-demand portraitist. Her subjects were often her friends: louche aristocrats, nightclub habitués, lovers of both sexes. She also painted her family — Tadeusz and their daughter, Kizette — though rarely in a flattering light. Her style, which she described as “clear painting,” looks backward to mannerism and forward to futurism and has a high-gloss sheen to it, like the chrome plating of a motorcar.

“She is just a technically masterful painter,” Julian Dawes, the head of Impressionist and Modern art at Sotheby’s, said. “It would be virtually impossible to fake because it is so specific, because she disguises her brushstroke.” A book by her daughter, Kizette de Lempicka-Foxhall, quotes Lempicka’s own assessment of her style. “It was neat,” she said. “It was finished.” Contemporary critics called it strange, perverse.

She had a predilection for painting women as modern, urban, desiring. In one of her most famous works, “Autoportrait,” she paints herself, steely-eyed, wearing a leather helmet and leather gloves, in the driver’s seat of a green Bugatti. (She knew the power of the shade, of the silhouette, even though her real car was a yellow Renault.) “She was one of the first painters that painted women in a powerful way, in an independent way,” Marisa de Lempicka said. “They are in charge of their lives besides being glamorous and beautiful.”

Lempicka believed in glamour, curating her own image by way of parties and precisely staged photographs. Her works sold well through the 1930s and even into the 1940s, a period that saw her leave Europe, with her second husband, Baron Raoul Kuffner, for America. At times her image and her nickname — the Baroness with the brush — superseded her art.

Tastes changed, as did Lempicka’s style, which veered toward Abstract Expressionism. Her work, old and new, was disfavored for decades, regarded, if it was regarded at all, as kitsch. Her rehabilitation began in 1972, when a Paris gallery organized a celebrated retrospective of her work. It continued after her death, in Mexico, in 1980. (Lempicka, in typically extravagant fashion, asked to have her ashes scattered over the crater of a volcano.) She then acquired famous collectors — chiefly Madonna, who used Lempicka’s paintings in her videos for “Open Your Heart” and “Vogue,” but also Barbra Streisand and Jack Nicholson.

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