Signed and dated T.DE LEMPITZKY 23 (lower right)
Carl Lashow, Basel
Barry Friedman, New York (by 1980)
Allan Stone Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
(possibly) Paris, Salon des Indépendants, 1924, no. 1833 (titled Nu)
Rome, Villa Medici; Montréal, The Museum of Fine Arts, Tamara de Lempicka, tra eleganza e trasgressione, 1994, no. 5 (as dating from circa 1922)
New York, Barry Friedman, Ltd., Tamara de Lempicka Paintings, 1996, no. 15
New York, Allan Stone Gallery, The Figure, 2001
London, The Royal Academy of Arts; Vienna, Kunstforum, Tamara de Lempicka: Art Deco Icon, 2004-05, no. 5
Constantin Stifter, 9 clichés, Archives de l'auteur, 1923
Tamara de Lempicka, Annotated photo album, Houston, 1923, no. 7, listed
Marc Vaux, Fonds Lempicka, Paris, 1972, no. 7, listed
Gioia Mori, Tamara de Lempicka, Paris, 1920-1938, Florence, 1994, no. 11, illustrated p. 110
Alain Blondel, Tamara de Lempicka, Lausanne, 1999, no. B. 22, illustrated pp. 98-99
Patrick Bade, Tamara de Lempicka, Singapore, 2006, illustrated pp. 28-29
Tamara de Lempicka's lustrous La Dormeuse exemplifies the sleek aesthetic of the Roaring Twenties. Sexy, bold and ultra-stylized in its presentation, this picture and her other important pictures from the 1920s celebrate the strength and power of the modern woman. Lempicka, who was born in Poland and spent the rest of her life cultivating a glamorous international persona (see fig. 1), came to Paris after fleeing Russia in 1918. She began exhibiting her work in the Paris salons in 1922, and through her exposure to avant-garde art, she derived a distinct style of painting that was unlike most of her male contemporaries. She was impressed by the Cubists and their deconstruction of form, and she applied similar techniques in her paintings. Her pictures of this period, including the present work and the 1923 oil, Perspective (Musée du Petit Palais, Geneva, see fig. 2), evidence her fascination with the inherent geometry of the human form, particularly the oval contours of the limbs and torso.
Lempicka was also receptive to the influence of her colleagues in Weimar Germany, and she readily incorporated the hyper-realism of Neue Sachlichkeit into her own work. But it was her love of the precision and classicism of the Italian Renaissance that had the most profound impact on her compositions. The nude in the present picture, asleep in a garden and unconscious to the world around her, has clear ties to Michelangelo's powerful and defiant Eve from the fresco of the Sistine Ceiling in Rome (see fig. 3) and Alba from the tomb of Lorenzo di Medici (see fig. 4). Lempicka frequently acknowledged her indebtedness to the Italian Old Masters and how their style profoundly impacted her art: "I discovered Italy when I was a youngster and my grandmother took me away from the cold climate of Poland, where I was born and lived, to take me to the sunny cities of Florence, Rome, Naples, Venice and Milan. It was under her attentive guidance that my eyes took in the treasures of the Italian old masters, from the Quattrocento, the Renaissance" (Alain Blondel, Tamara de Lempicka, Lausanne, 1999, p. 22).
In La Dormeuse, every muscle and curve of the figure’s flesh are rendered with imperceptible brushstrokes. Her skin appears to be incandescent, as if she is bathed in silvery moonlight. When Lempicka completed the picture in 1924, she was just establishing herself as a painter of serious consideration. Because it was rare for a female artist to paint such explicitly provocative pictures, she often took measures to disguise her gender from critics who might otherwise overlook her talent. On the canvas of La Dormeuse, for example, she signed the lower-right corner "Lempitzky," the masculine version of her Polish surname. It is believed that Lempicka exhibited this composition in 1924 at that annual Paris salon, where unfavorable biases against women painters were not uncommon. Seventy years later, when the picture was exhibited again in Rome in a retrospective of the artist's work, it was considered one of the highlights of Lempicka's career.
In his catalogue raisonné on the artist, Alain Blondel has written the following about this picture: "The proud pubis, taking up almost the entire center of this painting, is well framed by two sturdy thighs. A work that is somewhat reminiscent today, of the famous work on the same theme that Gustave Courbet so lovingly painted. Although, by 1923, 19th century modesty was probably outdated, this early work by Lempicka does seem intentionally provocative." (Alain Blondel, Tamara de Lempicka, Lausanne, 1999, p. 99).
Fig. 1, Photograph of the artist circa 1927
Fig. 2, Tamara De Lempicka, Perspective, 1923, oil on canvas
Fig. 3, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Peccato origionale, 1509-1517, fresco, Sistine Chapel, Rome
Fig. 4, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Alba, 1526-31, marble, Medici Chapel, Florence
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