Tamara de Lempicka
- Tamara de Lempicka
- Nu adossé I
- Signed T. de Lempitzki (lower right)
- Oil on canvas
Acquired by the present owner circa 2002
Milan, Bottega di Poesia, Tamara de Lempitzka, 1925, no. 24 (titled Nudo)
Paris, Salon d'Automne, 1925, no. 824
Nu adossé I embodies Lempicka's unmistakable aesthetic at its most tantalizing. Its whereabouts unknown for most of its recorded history, this picture was exhibited in the artist's groundbreaking solo exhibition at Milan's Bottegia di Poesia gallery in 1925, the same year it was painted. The exhibition effectively launched Lempicka's career as a formidable presence among the avant-garde, and the pictures on display there are now considered some of her most successful compositions. Nu adossé I has been in a private California collection for the last several years, possibly brought to the west coast by the artist herself, and this rediscovered masterwork easily ranks among her most sensuous depictions of the female nude.
The whereabouts of Nu adossé I have been unknown for most of its recorded history. The catalogue raisonné for the artist, published in 1999, included an image of the present work (pictured below) taken at the Milan exhibition in 1925, and listed it as "location unknown." Last year, Sotheby's was contacted by an art advisor representing the West Coast-based owner of the painting. The owner later described finding the work many years before and, while not realizing its importance at the time, he had appreciated its aesthetic appeal and kept it in his home. Subsequent research years later confirmed the work to be the lost Lempicka.
Nu adossé I epitomizes the elegant style for which Lempicka would become renowned. Rooted in the traditions of sixteenth-century painting, the erotically-contorted nude can be likened to the portrayal of rapturous saints and martyrs of Italian Mannerist and Baroque art. Germain Bazin characterized Lempicka's style in these terms: "The linea serpentina, to sixteenth-century Italian theorists the supreme expression of beauty, animates Tamara's figures: with bodies twisting from top to toe, they touch the edge of the painted surface at various points... A painting by Tamara is generally presented like a bas-relief with a single, powerful figure filling the whole canvas - to the extent quite often that the top of the head is cut off by the upper edge" (G. Bazin, reprinted in Tamara de Lempicka, Art Deco Icon (exhibition catalogue), Vienna & London, 2004-05, p. 19).
When Lempicka completed the picture in 1925, 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 Nu adossé I, for example, she signed the canvas "Lempitzki," the masculine version of her Polish surname.
The glamour of Lempicka's compositions was very much influenced by the artist's own appearance, which she cultivated knowingly (fig. 1). In photographs of herself from this era, Lempicka takes on some of the intimate poses of the models in her painting, channeling their idealized beauty and sexually-provocative mannerisms. The seductive appeal of Nu adossé I was so powerful that Lempicka rendered a closely related variant of this composition several months later, and also replicated the pose in her painting Le Rêve (fig. 2).