Tamara was born Maria Gorska in Warsaw, Poland. She was the daughter of wealthy but divorced parents, spending her childhood at boarding school in Switzerland and holidays with family in Italy and on the French Riviera. At age 15 she went to live with a rich and aristocratic aunt in St Petersburg.
Here she met and fell for Tadeusz Lempicki, a handsome but impecunious layabout and notorious womaniser. He, keen to get his hands on her teenage body and her substantial dowry, swept her off her feet and they were married in 1916.
In 1917, during the Russian Revolution, Tadeusz was arrested by the Bolsheviks. Maria searched the prisons for him and after several weeks secured his release by means of bribes and personal favours. They ended up in Paris among other aristocratic Russian refugees, where they lived for a while from the sale of family jewels.
Maria gave birth to a daughter, Kizette, while Tadeusz (no surprise) proved unwilling or unable to find work. Maria, who had studied art, changed her name to Tamara and became a painter with a distinctive Art Deco style, with a touch of cubism. Her nudes remind me of Ingres, even though the style is so different.
She held her first major show in Milan in 1925 and after that there was no looking back. She was soon the most fashionable portrait painter among the social elite. She commanded up to $5,000 per portrait - a wagonload of shekels in today's money.
Meanwhile, Tamara travelled widely in Europe and America and rarely saw her daughter, who was away at boarding school in France or England. Kizette spent her holidays with her grandmother and one year she was so angry with her mother for not returning from America for Christmas, that she burned Tamara's enormous collection of designer hats.
In 1928, the wealthy Baron Raoul Kuffner commissioned Tamara to paint his mistress. Tamara finished the portrait, then took the mistress' place in the Baron's life. The Great Depression had little effect on her frenetic lifestyle or her work: in the early 1930s she painted King Alfonso XIII of Spain and Queen Elizabeth of Greece. Museums began to collect her works.