Lot 17
  • 17

Tamara de Lempicka

2,200,000 - 3,200,000 GBP
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  • Tamara de Lempicka
  • signed De Lempicka (upper left)
  • oil on panel
    38 by 45.8cm.
    15 by 18in.
    Painted in 1930.


Evelyne Artus, USA (acquired from the artist n 1930)
Private Collection, USA (by descent from the above. Sold: Christie's, New York, 15th May 1997, lot 401)
Worth Avenue Fine Arts, Inc. (Stephen E. Myers), Palm Beach
Acquired by the present owner in 1997


New York, Julien Levy Gallery, Tamara de Lempicka, 1941, no. 6
Paris, Galerie Ror Volmar, Tamara de Lempicka, œuvres récentes et anciennes, 1930-1960, 1961
Hiroshima, Museum of Fine Arts, Tamara de Lempicka, 1997, no. 30


Georges Remon, 'Architectures Modernes - L'Atelier de Mme de Lempicka', in Mobilier & Décoration, Sèvres, January 1931, illustrated p. 2
G. C. 'Tamara de Lempicka', in Cose, no. 92, March 1933, illustrated
Marc Vaux, Fonds Lempicka, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris, 1972, no. 88, listed
Gioia Mori, Tamara de Lempicka, Paris, 1920-1938, Florence, 1994, no. 87, illustrated p. 186
Alain Blondel, Tamara de Lempicka, catalogue raisonné, 1921-1979, Lausanne, 1999, no. B.136, illustrated in colour p. 223


The panel is stable. There are surface abrasions along all four framing edges, not visible when framed. Apart from some retouchings along all four framing edges, and scattered spots and thin lines of retouching in the figure's skin and on the white cloth, visible under ultra-violet light, this work is in good condition. Colours: Overall fairly accurate in the printed catalogue illustration, although lighter and more luminous in the original.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Sexy, bold and ultra-stylised in its presentation, La Dormeuse is a highly charged and suggestive depiction of a femme fatale in repose. Lempicka was born in Poland and lived in St. Petersburg in her youth. In 1918 she came to Paris and spent the rest of her life cultivating a glamorous international persona (fig. 1). 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.  Impressed by the Cubists and their deconstruction of form, she applied similar techniques in her paintings. Although loosely tied to the geometric aesthetic of Cubism and the proportionality of neo-Classicism, Lempicka's painting, characterised by its razor-sharp draughtsmanship, theatrical lighting and sensual modeling, was unlike that of any artist of her day. Her most striking depictions of women (fig. 2), including the tantalising La Dormeuse, have come to personify the age of Art Deco. 

The subject of the sleeping woman was filled with erotic potential, as Picasso would so readily acknowledge in his sumptuous portraits of Marie-Therese in 1932 (fig. 3). Lempicka's version of this image, which preceded these pictures by two years, is perhaps one of the most intimate and unabashedly sensual renderings of this theme. In La Dormeuse, every curve of the figure's flesh is rendered with imperceptible brushstrokes. Her skin appears to be incandescent as if she is bathed in silver moonlight, and her hair glows with a metallic sheen. Lempicka was 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 (fig. 4) that had the most profound impact on her compositions. 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' (quoted in Alain Blondel, op. cit., p. 22).

While much has been written about Lempicka's reverence for the old masters, equally important to her as an artist were the aesthetic forces of her era, the most influential of which was the American film industry. Lempicka was enthralled with the mystique of Hollywood, eventually moving there in the 1940s with her second husband, Baron Kuffner. She invited film crews to her studio in Paris, where she staged grand entrances and posed for pictures with all the theatricality and panache of a silent film star. One often repeated anecdote is that Lempicka was thrilled to be mistaken once for the film actress Greta Garbo. The artist was enamoured by this type of modern glamour, and it is no accident that the models in her portraits often resemble film icons from the early days of Hollywood. This platinum bombshell, depicted in the nude and with brightly coloured lips and nails, calls to mind the passively seductive poses of such 1930s silver-screen legends like Garbo and Carole Lombard. 

As Patrick Bade explained in his monograph on the artist, 'There is no doubt that de Lempicka herself was profoundly influenced by the burgeoning art form of the cinema. In the 1920s as she formed her style, the great Hollywood studios of M.G.M., Paramount, Columbia, Universal and R.K.O. began what has been termed the gold age of Hollywood and their domination of world entertainment. The French and German film industries also enjoyed a golden age of creativity, turning out many of the twentieth century's finest films in these years. The ubiquity of movies began to influence the way people looked and behaved. De Lempicka's female subjects with their heavy makeup, perfectly coiffed hair and their theatrical poses and facial expressions full of artificial pathos could have stepped out of the silver screen" (P. Bade, Tamara de Lempicka, New York, 2006, p. 92). 


Fig. 1, Tamara de Lempicka with a cigarette, circa 1931-32, Photograph by Camuzzi, Collection Alain & Michèle Blondel
Fig. 2, Tamara de Lempicka, Portrait de Marjorie Ferry, 1932, oil on canvas. Sold: Sotheby's, New York, 5th May 2009
Fig. 3, Pablo Picasso, La Dormeuse, 1932, oil on canvas, sold: Sotheby's, London, February 2011
Fig. 4, Michelangelo, Dawn (detail), 1520-34, marble, tomb of Lorenzo de Medici, Florence