The Reappearing Nude

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The New York Sun

This week Sotheby’s announced that it will auction a recently rediscovered painting by Tamara de Lempicka, an artist who worked up a mild form of Cubism into a major Art Deco shtick. That’s not to say that her paintings aren’t effective in their way. As period pieces, they’re triumphs. The work in question, Nu adossé I from 1925, is testament to de Lempicka’s ability to model form. The nude isn’t just sculptural, she’s built like the elegantly curved architecture of the same period. Everything — the chair, the drape over her lap, her bobbed hair — looks like masonry.

Even though she covers herself with demurely crossed arms, her gaze could burn holes through fabric. If it looks like the artist had a predilection for strong, bosomy girls, well, there’s a reason for that.

Ellis Avery’s latest novel, The Last Nude, is an engaging work of historical fiction that tells the story of Rafaela Fano, whom de Lempicka painted, then bedded, then used like a theatrical prop as she circulated in Paris’s gay subculture and schemed to secure her artistic and personal future. De Lempicka would have created Nu adossé I two years before she met Rafaela, but I asked Avery for her thoughts on the new-found work, which, according to Sotheby’s, disappeared shortly after its first exhibition in Milan in 1925 and resurfaced when its owner contacted the auction house late last year. Could it have some relation to the nudes of Rafaela?


Read the whole essay here.

Sotheby’s has announced that Nu adossé I will be exhibited in London and New York prior to sale on the evening of May 2, 2012; Sotheby’s New York location is at 1334 York Avenue, between 71st and 72nd streets, 212-606-7000, The Last Nude by Ellis Avery was published by Riverhead in January 2012.

Franklin Einspruch is the art critic for The New York Sun. He blogs at

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