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Two Art Deco Icons Poised for a Renaissance

Madonna clearly was onto something when, in the late 1980s, she began collecting the artworks of Tamara de Lempicka, a Polish, Art Deco-era painter known at the height of her fame for her portraits of a louche, and often elite, Parisian society.

Lempicka, whose celebrity crested in the years between the two world wars, left Paris for Beverly Hills, Calif., in 1939. In her prime, the artist liked to portray herself as a self-infatuated femme fatale, projecting the kind of icy hauteur that is often a magnet for fashion tribes.

By the time she died in 1980, Lempicka’s reputation had been eclipsed by a generation of younger artists, her work dismissed as overwrought and out of tune with the times. But in the decades since, interest in the artist has risen thanks in part to enthusiastic collectors like Barbra Streisand; Jack Nicholson; the fashion designers Donna Karan and Wolfgang Joop; and pop music’s Material Girl.

“I have a ton of her paintings in New York,” Madonna told Vanity Fair in a 1990 interview. “I have a Lempicka museum.” The singer has also made reference to the artist and her works in some of her music videos and performances, including at concerts for her recent Celebration Tour.

“Nu aux buildings,” a painting from 1930, is also featured in the Sotheby’s exhibition.Credit…via Sotheby’s

Lempicka’s highly mannered, hyper-glamorized, and erotically charged portraiture is the subject of “The World of Tamara: A Celebration of Lempicka and Art Deco,” a new exhibition and sale at Sotheby’s in New York on view through April 18. It includes works like “Nu aux buildings,” which depicts a nude woman with a pale textile draped over the lower half of her body, and “La Polonaise,” a portrait of a woman whose hair is covered by a vibrant floral-print veil.

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