5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on December 2, 2010
Claridge has done her homework here to an astonishing degree. The amount of research put into pealing back the layers of time and mystery that have surrounded the life of one of the 20th century's most fascinating painters is incredible. This book should be on the shelf of any Lempicka fan if for no other reason than it debunks the most popular myths of the others books by so called "scholars" littering the same shelf left and right.
The writing in this is incredibly dense. There's just so much material to cover here that there's no other way this book could be written even semi-competently without even half of the information present here. And what information there is! I knew Tamara lived the high life in Paris but the ammount of drugs, alcohol and sex present in this book are insane. Couple this with heart wrenching affairs, royal bumfoolery and daring political escapes and you have only one tenth of what the life of this woman was about.
One thing more that I wish to address is the statement by another reviewer on here that this is more of an art history book than I biography. I would say the the truth lies somewhere between the two. While this is a very in depth biography there were times that I did find myself having to pause time and time again to look up certain names, dates and places to see what the author referenced off handedly throughout the book. Some names are easier to pick up than others - Lhote, Denis and Marinetti are easy to pick out, but some of the more obscure ones took away a lot of time from reading this. So yes, not exactly a book you can blow through in a matter of days unless you're willing to make some sacrifices as you go.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on July 5, 2011
....and it still fills a void in Tamara scholarship, but in trying to be so many things...biography, art history, art criticism, psychological profile, social history...this book weaves a somewhat arbitrary and bumpy trail through De Lempicka's life, times, and art. It mixes gossipy trivia with modernist theory in a way that often doesn't mix very well. The book, as a whole, feels sort of welded together...if it were a meal, it would be a big bowl in which appetizer, main course, desert, and midnight snack would have all be thrown in and mixed together under the dubious rationale, "it's all going to the same place."
Nonetheless, in the absence of many authoritative books that might better take one or another aspect of De Lempicka's life and art and make a real study of them, this book is well worth reading for an overall look at this still underrated and under-appreciated artist. That said, even after 375 pages, I didn't feel that the author really grasped the "mystery" of de Lempicka. Something about the various aspects of her life and personality, as presented here, didn't quite add up. I cant help but wonder if the author, who seemed to rely a good deal on De Lempicka's daughter for information, insights, and documents, didn't compromise her objectivity too much in securing this cooperation.
As it is, the De Lempicka who comes through on these pages isn't all that likable a woman. In fact, I found myself really shuddering at the idea of being in contact with such a selfish, shrewish, manipulative, hysterical, insensitive, self-dramatizing person. She isn't really any worse than the misbehaving male artists we're all familiar with--its just that she misbehaves in an entirely different--in some senses, distinctly "feminine" way that we may not be as familiar with in artist biographies dominated as they are by male subjects. Here we see De Lempicka at her worst, and often, playing the emotionally abusive and psychologically overbearing wife, mother--and grandmother--wielding her financial clout as family matriarch like a club to beat down all opposition to her wishes. At other times, her abuse is more subtle, insinuating in ways that'll make your skin crawl.
Technically an aristocrat, De Lempicka thought it something to be proud of, something that conferred upon her a privileged natural superiority over and above her fellow mortals. It's hard for Americans, in particular, to swallow this sort of class arrogance. But perhaps worst of all is that De Lempicka didnt seem to have much of a sense of self-irony. She could be just as outrageously flamboyant as Dali in appearance and behavior, but where Dali seemed to do it with a wink and a nod, De Lempicka doesn't seem to get the joke whatsoever. In fact, she doesnt seem to think there is a joke to be gotten. She's as serious, at least as she's portrayed in this biography, as a root canal over nine miles of bad road.
Even giving her the benefit of every doubt, I certainly didn't come away from this book liking De Lempicka, nor even sympathizing with her, and I'm not sure the author did either, although she seems to do her best to get the reader to do both. Basically, this is the story of a not-very-nice person who turned out some very great art...a story not quite unfamiliar to any reader of artist biographies.
If I go on at some length about DeLempicka's character it's because this book seems to focus on that more than anything else. While the author makes the necessary effort to trace De Lempicka's art career, the book falls short in this regard. Mention is made of other artists of the era, and even of De Lempicka's acquaintance with some of them, but little of real substance is offered of her interaction with them. She seems to exist side-by-side with them in a bubble. When the author talks about art history or art theory, her comments seem somewhat perfunctory, almost canned, as if gleaned from another source or reliant upon authority not her own. I'm not saying they are...but thats how they read to me. This impression may be a consequence of the aforementioned attempt to make this one book serve too many functions, which, as also aforementioned, makes it useful, given the paucity of quality De Lempicka studies.
And that paucity of alternative studies is what makes this book a worthwhile and generally rewarding, if at more times than one might have wished, tedious read.