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This website is about Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ). I'm a black belt who started in 2006, teaching and training at Artemis BJJ in Bristol, UK. All content ©Can Sönmez

24 January 2016

Verona, 24th January 2016: Tamara de Lempicka at Palazzo Forti

As I couldn't find Tamara de Lempicka in Paris last month, I followed her to Verona. There aren't many artists I'd jump on a plane for, but de Lempicka is one, Vigée Le Brun is another. The third would be Artemisia Gentileschi, but I haven't see an exhibition advertised for her this year (though she does have one painting at a self portrait exhibition the Queens Gallery is due to hold in 2016, so I'll check that out). Possibly Judith Leyster too: that's someone I should research in more depth.


My easyjet flight from Gatwick to Verona lasted about 1 hour and 40 minutes (plus the National Express from Bristol coach station, another three hours or so). Once in Verona Airport (which is actually in Villafranca di Verona rather than Verona itself), there are regular shuttles every 20 minutes, but not in the early hours of the morning. You can buy your ticket online, but despite what the website says, the driver will want it printed out. There's also an automatic ticket machine inside the terminal, near the exit: either way, a single will cost €6 (I didn't see a return option, but I may have missed it). That's a fair whack for such a short trip: it was only around 10 to 15 minutes, maybe less.

Helpfully, the shuttle ends at the main train station, Porto Nuova. According to my Sygic, that is meant to be a 34 minute walk from the Palazzo Forti, though it took me longer. Fortunately there are several landmarks en route, such as the Verona Arena (a Roman amphitheatre). You're mostly walking on the same road, meaning that those who (unlike me) aren't completely lacking their sense of direction should be ok. You'll see a few signs en route for Palazzo Forti, plus lots of posters if there is an exhibition taking place.

Palazzo Forti

I'd recommend buying your ticket in advance (I went via Musement for €14) , as then you get to skip the queue. You have to enter within a specified 30 minute window, but that puts you in a queue of maybe 2 or 3 people. For those buying on the day, the queue snaked around the building. My ticket included an audio guide, which was OK if not especially comprehensive. It covers 21 of the items on display: keep in mind that this exhibition is not just paintings, but also photos, films, dresses, shoes and indeed hats.

Most of de Lempicka's work appears to be in private collections, part of the reason I was willing to fly to Italy to see it. There are some famous pieces, including what is probably de Lempicka's masterpiece, 'La Belle Rafaella'. Like Goya's 'Nude Maja' (incidentally, googling 'Goya maja' just now to remember the name of the painting, I came across this: sadly, she doesn't have a bad ass afro when you click through [it's a hat, I think], but looks like it from the preview), there are both clothed and naked versions, with the nude ramping up into decidedly pornographic territory. De Lempicka painted plenty of nudes, but her models normally look impassively at the viewer. In the nude Rafaella, her expression is in no way impassive!

There are less overtly erotic pieces too, including the 'Lady with Gloves' and 'Kizette on the Balcony' I'd hoped to see in Paris, but ended up following to Verona. There's also a well known 'Portrait of Ira P' (who serves as the exhibition poster) and de Lempicka's own favourite, 'Mother Superior'. Contemporary critics did not agree with her choice, decrying what they saw as its unconvincing 'glycerine tears'. It's certainly a volte face from the confident, stylish and powerful female figures of de Lempicka's earlier work. She is much better at decadent pleasure than she is at emotional pain.

Something else I would recommend is reading up on de Lempicka before you go see any of her work. In many ways, she mirrors Vigée Le Brun, who similarly benefits from extra biographical reading. Both women were essentially courtiers in their respective time periods, both spent time in St Petersburg and Paris, both were celebrities, both were best known for their portraiture. I suspect that if you had a time machine and made the two women swap places, Vigée Le Brun would be as comfortable in the glamorous Paris of the 1920s and '30s as de Lempicka would be in the court of Marie Antoinette.

Vigée Le Brun's memoirs are tame by comparison to de Lempicka's often raunchy life, but that might just be due to the different social mores. Both were strong, independent women who knew what they had and made the most of it, socially, romantically and professionally. I would suggest the Laura Claridge biography of de Lempicka: there's a glossy book by de Lempicka's daughter, but it isn't especially well researched and rather short.

The Palazzo Forti was cramped in places, especially where the paintings were on the audioguide and therefore acquired a huddle of be-headphoned people around it. Having said that, the room that housed 'La Belle Rafaella' was an exception, with plenty of space. That's the only spot where you could sit down and have a comfortable stare at the paintings: I took the opportunity to try and sketch the clothed Rafaella, known as 'The Pink Tunic'. I'm rubbish at drawing, but it nevertheless adds to the enjoyment of an exhibition, making you look closer. It has the added benefit of making people get out of your eyeline too, which is handy. ;p

I would have liked to see a lot more paintings, rather than the photographs and fashion items that bulk out the exhibition. However, that wasn't a surprise, as it was mentioned in the blurb when I was booking my tickets. I'll be keeping an eye out for future de Lempicka exhibitions. Hopefully if there is another one in Verona, it will be in the summer so my girlfriend would be up for coming along. It was weird walking around the squares without her there, as our big Italy and Greece trip from over a decade ago was one of our first major holidays together (I still haven't written it up, so I'll do that retrospectively at some point). Next time. :)

The next flight back to the UK was the following day, so I CouchSurfed. Pretty cool way to finish the trip, especially as my excellent host treated me to her home made pizza. Eating pizza with an Italian family in Verona after an art exhibition talking about languages? Only way that could be better would be throwing some BJJ in there somehow. :D

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