5 Fast Facts About Tamara de Lempicka

Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Sometimes artists become more known among the general public for their colorful personal lives than for their artwork, no matter how great their contributions to the art world. Such is the case with Polish/American artist Tamara de Lempicka, who was born on this day in 1898. While Google is honoring what would have been her 120th birthday with a Google Doodle,  here are some highlights from her storied life.

1. SHE BEGAN HER "CAREER" AT THE AGE OF 12.

Tamara de Lempicka, who was born Maria Górska, discovered her artistic passion and skill at the age of 12. Lempicka had sat for a famous painter, but hated the resulting portrait, and believed she could do a better job. Thus she created her first painting ever, a portrait of her younger sister Adrienne, with which she was extremely pleased.

2. SHE MET HER HUSBAND WHEN SHE WAS 14 YEARS OLD.

Though she was only 14 years old when she met Taduesz Lempicki, the teenaged Lempicka became determined to marry him. Just a few years later, when she was 17 years old, she married the "modestly well-off lawyer" with a dowry provided by her "millionaire banker uncle." (She hadn't lived with her parents since they divorced when she was a child.)

3. SHE'S MORE FAMOUS FOR HER SEX LIFE THAN HER ART.

 Gallery technicians at Sotheby's auction house lift a painting by Tamara de Lempicka entitled 'Portrait de la Duchesse de la Salle' from 1925, next to another painting by the artist, 'Portrait de Marjorie Ferry' from 1932
Oli Scarff, Getty Images

Although she is considered the most famous Art Deco painter, Lempicka was more famous for her libido than for her art. She was bisexual, and carried on scandalous affairs with both men and women (often her patrons and models). Yet the exact details are somewhat unclear since, according to one source, she "shuffled the facts of her biography as much as she meddled with her birth date"—and she meddled with her birth date quite a bit, even going so far as to reportedly try to pass her daughter off as her sister on occasion.

4. SHE LIVED A LIFE OF LUXURY.

Lempicka lived a life of luxury from childhood. Not only was she born into a wealthy family, her second husband was Baron Kuffner, a wealthy Hungarian baron who had been her patron and lover. Although she initially lost money in 1929 when her bank collapsed, she survived the Great Depression relatively unaffected, painting the portraits of King Alfonso XIII of Spain and Queen Elizabeth of Greece during that time. She had been charging as much as 50,000 French francs per portrait by 1927, which was equivalent to about $2000 then, but would be about 10 times as much today.

5. HER ASHES WERE SCATTERED OVER A VOLCANO.

In 1980, Lempicka passed away in Mexico. Per her request, Lempicka's ashes were scattered over the crater of the volcanic Mount Popocatepetl by her daughter, Kizette.

An earlier version of this post appeared in 2008.

If You Want to Be a Better Learner, Try Drawing (Even If You're Bad at It)

iStock
iStock

Doodling all over your notebook while sitting through class or a meeting might not be so bad after all. According to design historian and art professor D.B. Dowd, even the crudest of drawings can facilitate learning.

Dowd recently spoke with Quartzy about his new book, Stick Figures: Drawing as a Human Practice. In it, he aims to dispel the myth that drawing is only for skilled artists or crafty Pinterest-loving types. Whether you’re doodling a smiley face or penning a map while giving directions, drawing is suitable for everyone, he argues.

“We have misfiled the significance of drawing because we see it as a professional skill instead of a personal capacity,” he writes in his book. “This essential confusion has stunted our understanding of drawing and kept it from being seen as a tool for learning above all else.”

Science seems to back this up. Over a century ago, science students were required to take drawing lessons in order to “learn to observe.” With this in mind, biology professor Jennifer Landin started introducing drawing back into her lesson plans.

“Drawing is merely making lines and dots on paper. If you can write your name, you can draw,” she writes for Scientific American. “But we all take shortcuts when we see; often our brains fool us, and we skip over most visual details. Since some species of dragonfly can only be distinguished from others by the vein patterns in their wings, skipping details is not an option.”

In addition to helping you become a better observer (and thus a better learner), one 2009 study found that drawing also improves memory. Test subjects who doodled while listening to a list of names and places scored 29 percent higher on a surprise quiz of the information than those who didn’t doodle. And while smartphones and laptops can be a distraction, doodling helps you concentrate. The researchers behind one 2011 study theorized that doodling may stimulate “default networks” in the brain, which promote activity in the cerebral cortex even when there are no outside stimuli.

Classroom research has also shown that drawing can be a useful learning aid. When a student is asked to draw a concept like sound waves, for instance, they’re forced to think about it more creatively. Plus, they often enjoy the assignment more, which can’t hurt. So go ahead—break out the pencil and paper and start doodling. It might be good for your brain.

[h/t Quartzy]

New Podcast Opens Up the Cold Case of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Art Heist

Ryan McBride, AFP/Getty Images
Ryan McBride, AFP/Getty Images

One of the newest true crime podcasts gathering buzz doesn't involve a murder or kidnapping—instead, it investigates one of the most infamous art heists in history. Last Seen, a collaboration between WBUR and The Boston Globe, looks at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum theft, a case that has gone unsolved for 28 years.

The story begins on March 18, 1990, when two thieves posing as policemen infiltrated the Boston art museum and stole 13 paintings off the walls. The works are from such master artists as Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Manet, and are estimated to have a cumulative value exceeding $600 million.

The scope of the heist alone would have made it historically significant, but the story became even more interesting after the crime was committed. The case never moved forward, despite a drawn-out investigation and a $10 million reward for the return of the stolen pieces. That didn't mean there weren't suspects: Two unnamed men were identified, but they were killed shortly after the theft, and according to the popular theory, information regarding the location of the stolen artworks died with them.

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum case is still filled with mysteries, but the new podcast aims to make the story a little clearer. Hosted by WBUR producers and reporters Kelly Horan and Jack Rodolico, and with contributions from Stephen Kurkjian, who spent years covering the heist for The Boston Globe, Last Seen follows the saga from the night the crime was committed to today. It features interviews with investigators who worked on the case and people who were employed by the museum in the early 1990s, some of whom have never before agreed to speak publicly on the subject.

The first episode of Last Seen debuted on WBUR September 17, and the series will include 10 episodes in total.

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