Tamara de Lempicka and Marianne Stokes – Slavic Girls

23 Jan

Tamara de Lempicka, The Polish Girl, 1933

I am not a big fan of Tamara de Lempicka’s paintings. I do find her life story terribly fascinating and her paintings peculiar and interesting, but her style of painting doesn’t appeal to me personally. Still, this painting of a Polish girl has been haunting my mind for weeks now; there’s just something about it which lures me, it seems. This Polish girl’s plump red lips and large steel blue eyes might otherwise be seductive and alluring, but in this painting they ooze a coldness that makes one hesitate to approach her, even gaze at her. She looks like a living statue; monumental, cold and untouchable. The portrait is closely cropped and she dominates the canvas, there is nothing else to look at but her. The light is hitting her pale, beautifully sculpted face from bellow, and this makes me think of the black and white photographs of glamorous movie stars such as Hedy Lamarr. The frizzy little locks of her blonde hair almost look as if they are paper cut-outs and her hands look like they belong to a wooden doll. Her white shawl with red flowers may appear as part of traditional clothes at first, but in this portrait it doesn’t give off that vibe of familiarity, tradition and warmth. There’s an impenetrable shield of coldness and mystery around this Polish girl. Marianne Stokes’ painting of a Slovak girl this time, is also a portrait of a Slavic girl in traditional attire and yet the mood and the style are completely different. Stokes painted this portrait during her travels to Hungary in 1905 and I’ve written about that here. Seen from the profile, this Slovak girl’s blue eyes are also looking somewhere in the distance. Neither of the girls in portraits are directly looking at the viewer, they are both caught on the canvas and captured, or rather, their beauty is captured. Elaborate headgear graces her head and a plethora of shiny beaded necklaces adorns her neck, and yet she doesn’t seem the least bit haughty with all that adornment, she doesn’t seem to be aware of her beauty and splendour. She seems to me like a beautiful and rare forest animal, unaware of how beautiful she truly is and how special and rare. Interestingly, usually the illusion of volume is here to make the painting seem more alive and real, and here the Stokes’ painting is more flat and yet it seems more realistic because De Lempicka’s illusion of volume is too exaggerated. Two very different artists, two very different styles, and still the motif is the same; a portrait of a Slavic girl.

Marianne Stokes, Slovak Girl in Sunday Attire, 1909

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: