Painted in 1932, this sultry portrait exemplifies the sleek and sexy aesthetic that defined Lempicka's art. The model is the English-born Marjorie Ferry, a cabaret singer living in Paris, whose financier husband commissioned this portrait at the beginning of the Great Depression. Lempicka transforms Ferry here into a modern-day goddess, cloaked in marble-crisp drapery in front of a Doric column. Although loosely tied to the geometric aesthetic of Cubism and the proportionality of neo-Classicism, Lempicka's painting, characterized by its razor-sharp draftsmanship, theatric lighting and sensual modelling, was unlike that of any artist of her day. Her most striking portraits, including Portrait of Marjorie Ferry, have come to personify the age of Art Deco.
In Portrait de Marjorie Ferry, 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 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, Tamara de Lempicka, Lausanne, 1999, 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 oft-repeated anecdote is that Lempicka was thrilled to be mistaken once for the film actress Greta Garbo. The artist was enamored 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, trailing her bejeweled fingers along a balustrade as she casts a knowing glance over her bare shoulder, calls to mind such 1930s silver-screen legends like Garbo or Carole Lombard. As Patrick Bade explains 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 artifical pathos could have stepped out of the silver screen" (P. Bade, op. cit., p. 92).
Oil on canvas
Tamara de Lempicka
Paris, Salon des Tuileries, 1932, no. 1196
39 3/8 by 25 5/8 in. 100 by 65 cm
Tamara de Lempicka, Annotated Photographic Album, Archives Lempicka, Houston, 1923-33, no. 46
Pierre Berthelot, "Les expositions (dans son atelier, rue Méchain)," Beaux-Arts, Paris, no. 5, May 25, 1932, p. 20
G.C., "Tamara de Lempicka," Cose, no. 92, March, 1933, illustrated
Marc Vaux, Lempicka Collection, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris, 1972, no. 46
Giancarlo Marmori, Tamara de Lempicka, Milan, 1977, illustrated in color p. 101
Giancarlo Marmori, Tamara de Lempicka, The major works of Tamara de Lempicka 1925 to 1935, Milan, 1978, illustrated p. 49
Germain Bazin & Hiroyuki Itsuki, Tamara de Lempicka, Tokyo, 1980, no. 56, illustrated in color
Baroness Kizette de Lempicka-Foxhall & Charles Phillips, Passion by design, The art and times of Tamara de Lempicka, New York, 1987, illustrated in color p. 109
Ellen Thormann, Tamara de Lempicka, Kunstkritik und Künstlerinnen in Paris, Berlin, 1993, no. 55, illustrated
Gilles Néret, Tamara de Lempicka 1898-1980, Cologne, 1993, illustrated in color p. 57
Gioia Mori, Tamara de Lempicka, Parigi 1920-1938, Florence, 1994, no. 93, illustrated in color p. 192
Alain Blondel, Tamara de Lempicka, Catalogue Raisonné 1921-1979, Lausanne, 1999, no. B.166, illustrated in color p. 261
Patrick Bade, Tamara de Lempicka, New York, 2006, illustrated in color p. 193
Marjorie Ferry, Paris (acquired from the artist in 1932, thence by descent and sold: Sotheby's, New York, November 9, 1995, lot 250)
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner