Friday, July 12, 2013

Tamara de Lempicka

It is a remarkable experience to encounter someone new, fresh, vigorous, authentic and enchanting.
by Charlie Leck

I did not know of her. She was a no-one in my mind and life.

I stepped into a little, freshly painted room yesterday (the feint aromas still hovered here and there and caused a scratching in my throat). I saw her standing there. She looked certain about herself, but something shouted at me that she was also frightened that I might not recognize her remarkable beauty. There seemed something so dreadfully insane about the look in her beautiful, sparkling eyes. She had come there just to meet me – just to change my life completely.

Like a star-struck, old farmer who has come in off the plain, specks of hayseed still clinging to this spot and that in his gray hair, I came to a sudden halt and stood, frozen, looking at her.

Her frenzied eyes seemed to challenge me, daring me to dismiss her lightly.

Someone off to the side – it was a woman’s voice – introduced me to her.

“Charles, this is Tamara.”

I stood looking at the woman, knowing my life, in that instant, had changed – progressed, deepened, broadened – and become complicated.

“Tamara de Lempicka,” the same voice said again, very softly – in nearly a whisper.

I tried to speak, but my lips and throat seemed frozen and unable to do what I willed. I kept my eyes fixed on hers and she continued to stare into me – not at me, but deeply into my secretive soul.

“You do not know of me?”

The question came as a whisper, barely audible. Still unable to speak, I shook my head very, very slightly. I knew nothing of her! No one else in the room took notice of my ignorance. She did.

“You are something of an ill-bred bore, then?” It was a question. Clearly! She was challenging me to shake my fear of her and to speak – to say something or anything – to defend myself. I felt a quivering of my jaw and my lips trembled.

“I do not know of you,” I stammered, “but, you are beautiful – stunning –  even overwhelming!”

She smiled, but said nothing. She extended her arm and hand. Her palm was downward and her fingertips curled slightly. She was inviting me to lightly take her fingers into my own and to bend, to kiss her soft, white, remarkable hand.

I had never done such a thing. Uncertain, I took her steady, refined fingers into my own and bent. I softly touched my lips to her knuckles. I wondered if it had been proper or at all graceful. I rose and looked into her face and she was smiling in humor.

It had been awkward – not graceful or suitable. Her eyes told me everything. She recognized that I was a dolt and a dunderhead. It humored her. Those eyes were laughing with a fierce joyousness. My face reddened. She flicked her head sideward only very slightly, as if to say, “Oh, it is nothing!”

“Come, sit with me,” she said aloud, “and let us listen to this music together.”

My feet would barely move as she turned and moved into an aisle, toward two empty seats. I commanded them to go, to loosen their grip on the floor beneath me. They obeyed and moved along gracelessly behind the remarkable woman. I observed her magnificent, green dress carefully. It was fitted perfectly to her body. Nothing was wasted; nor did anything need escape. She slid into the chair so gracefully and looked up at me, apparently happy that I had begun to control my frozen limbs. My head was spinning and my heart quivered. She patted the chair next to her. I was pleased that I could sit down.

“There now,” she said, “this should be very nice. You may now relax and be comfortable. You needn’t be so afraid of me. I will not cause you permanent pain.”

So it went on this past Wednesday, when I encountered Tarmara de Lempicka for the first time. She had been born in 1898 in Warsaw, the same year that my father came into the world. She married Tadeusz Lempicki (Tad, as she called him) in 1914, at the all too young age of 16. They married in the Chapel of the Knights in Petrograd and shortly after they moved to Paris, where Tamara began to study art and painting under Andre Lhote. Tad could not find work, but Tamara imagined that she could make a living with her painting. She sold a few things and it encouraged her. Soon, a number of galleries began showing her work and she began to live in the kind of luxury she knew as a child. She traveled widely and her fame spread as she went. She took up with important lovers. She did paintings of her daughter, Kizette, and they become internationally famous. In 1928, she and Tadeusz divorced. Her work continued to sell, even through the years of the great depression. Tamara, in love this time, married the Hungarian, Baron Kuffner, in 1933. It was at the time the Nazis were gaining strength in Europe and she sensed – nearly scented – the troubles ahead.

She is Jewish. She fled, with Kuffner, to America in 1939. They made Beverly Hills their home. The Reinhart Gallery in Los Angeles exhibited her work. In the early 40s, other American galleries began to show her paintings. Kizette joined her mother and step-father in America and young woman married the Texas geologist, Harold Foxhall.

Tamara and Baron Kuffner moved to New York City in 1943 – as the war raged on in Europe.

Kuffner died in 1962 and Tamara moved to Houston to be near her daughter.

In 1972, in Paris, at the magnificent Gallerie du Luxembourg, Alain Blondel organized a retrospective exhibit of Tamara’s work.

In 1974, age 75, Tamara moved to Cuernavaca, in Mexico. In 1979, Kizette, widowed, followed her mother there so that she might care for the aged woman.

Tamara died in her sleep on a March night in 1980. Her ashes are scattered on the Mount Popocatépetl volcanic crater (made famous by Malcolm Lowry’s extraordinary novel, Under the Volcano).

     Popocatépetl     (I was unable to established photo credits.)
     Popocatépetl is southeast of Mexico City, located in the
     states of Puebla, Mexico and Morelos. The volcano is
     over 17,000 feet tall.


It was Carson Kreitzer, the American playwright, who introduced us. We were at the remarkable Minneapolis Playwright Center.  I was charmed out of my mind and I was left nearly breathless by the beauty of the woman and the expanse of her work. I fell hard for Lempicka – hard as hell! 

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