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Self-portrait in green Bugatti

Painting, 1929, 35×27 cm

Description of the artwork «Self-portrait in green Bugatti»

Self-portrait (Tamara in a Green Bugatti) is a painting of Tamara de Lempicka (colloquial name of Tamara Łempicka), which captures her at the very rise of her career and became her iconic image. Although this portrait also has a grain of fiction, just as her scandalous biography, which she reshaped to her discretion.

Bugatti’s immodest charm
Legend has it that the editor of the most influential German fashion magazine was overwhelmed by the sight of a Bohemian artist getting out of her car in front of a luxury hotel in Monte Carlo. Elegant, independent and emancipated, she looked like an ideal role model for the advanced readers of Die Dame magazine, so the editor immediately commissioned Lempicka for her self-portrait for the cover of the next issue.

Without a moment’s hesitation, with a slight movement of her hand, Tamara turned her little yellow Renault into a sparkling chrome Bugatti, rightly judging that it would emphasize her aristocratic gloss much better. She did not take into account only one small detail: until 1963, the cars of this brand had been produced with a right-hand drive. However, this did not prevent the Self-portrait from the cover of a popular magazine to make a lot of noise and get the title of the “Anthem of the modern woman”.

Another curious detail: a year earlier, the popular French weekly Vu placed a work by the photo artist André Kertés, depicting a young lady driving a sports car, on their cover. The model showed a total look from Hermès: a sports ensemble, gloves and a leather helmet — exactly the same as in the self-portrait by Tamara Lempicka. Obviously, it was this photograph by the famous master that inspired Tamara for this painting.

This sums Tamara up: nothing could stop her on her way to success — neither the frank ridicule of others, nor the gossip about her affairs, which made her more publicity than her own artistic talents, nor even the accusations of plagiarism.

Bohemian chic
Her gift that made her the most famous salon artist in Paris of the 1920s and one of the most expensive artists for some time, consisted more of sober calculation and understanding of the art market functioning than of the high art spheres.

Lempicka perfectly understood that she could make good money (and this was her goal, since after fleeing Russia from the revolution, her aristocrat husband fell into depression and could not support his family) by painting portraits of the nobility. And in order for wealthy customers to line up, it was necessary to shine herself. And she knew how to do it like no other.

The competition was high at that time: “When I started to paint, many women began to paint,” the artist shared her memories. “More women did it then than men.” And in order to enter the upper world, she had to try hard, even if she had to spend the entire fee for her first paintings on jewelry or rent a mink cape.

The scandalous reputation of Lempicka and the train of numerous affairs with both men and women were on her hand in this case. People of art were not only forgiven for this, but, on the contrary, paintings by the eccentric or completely extravagant creators have always been sold better.

However, to her credit, for all the thoughtfulness of her strategy and her love for high society, Lempicka was sincere in her passion to walk on the edge, She enjoyed the privilege of “trying everything” that was allowed by the Bohemian lifestyle.
“I live on the sidelines of society, and the rules of the normal society do not matter for those on the sidelines”, this life principle of the artist could become the motto of one of the famous admirers of Lempicka’s work. Pop diva Madonna not only collects the paintings by one of the first emancipation icons and moral destroyer, but she also used them in the setting for several of her music videos and in the design of the scenery for her world tours.

Written by Natalia Azarenko 
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About the artwork

This artwork was added since it is referred to in the materials below

Art form: Painting

Subject and objects: Portrait

Style of art: Art Deco

Technique: Oil

Materials: Wood

Date of creation: 1929

Size: 35×27 cm

Artwork in selections: 60 selections