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1st Milka Bliznakov Prize

Adrienne Gorska

Milka Bliznakov Prize Final Report

submitted by Claire Bonney

July 2002

Title | Introduction | Work list Adrienne Gorska | Other useful information | Documents of interest


Work and life of the architect Adrienne Gorska (1899-1969) was the subject of a research project intended to result in a scholarly article. In his biography of Eileen Gray, Peter Adam notes that it was Gorska who taught Gray to draw architectural plans around 1924 (Peter Adam, Eileen Gray Architect/Designer, New York:Abrams, 1987, p. 172). To me, this fact alone made Gorska worth resucitating. From Adam we learn that Gorska had studied together with Gray’s partner Jean Badovici, editor of the prestigious periodical L’Architecture Vivante. It was he who introduced Gray to Gorska. Although Gray could have asked several architects to help her, as a woman and as an amateur, she was too embarassed to do so. Gorska was apparently empathetic and patient enough to help Eileen Gray along.

I discovered Gorska through PhD research on the Thérèse Bonney Photography Collection housed at the The Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York and at the Caisse nationale des monuments historiques et des sites in Paris. The very little that I know about her seems to confirm the impression that her patience with Eileen Gray evokes. It was also Gorska who suggested that her spoiled older sister, whose posthumous fame has now quite eclipsed her own, learn to paint as a means of earning her own money. It was again Gorska who often rescued her sister’s lonely child, Kizette de Lempicka (1916-2001), taking her in when her mother left Paris on extended excursions. The unequivocal love that child felt for her aunt, quite unlike that which she felt for her tempestuous mother, was reflected in de Lempicka’s letters to me.

Born in Moscow, Gorska emigrated with her Polish family to Paris in 1919. While Gorska’s sister Tamara de Lempicka became a well-known Art Deco painter, Gorska chose to study at the Ecole Spéciale d’Architecture in Montparnasse. She graduated in 1924 under Robert Mallet-Stevens and was thus was one of the few women of her era to hold an architectural diploma. Gorska seems to have gotten started in her career with an apartment for her sister in a Mallet-Stevens building in Paris, one that was well-received in the press for its clean lines and clear modern style. In the late 1920s Gorska collaborated with an even more obscure figure called Madame Lipska. Lipska seems to have set out in Paris as a stagesest designer or painter under Léon Bakst for the Ballets Russes but she was also a dressmaker who designed her own show rooms on the Champs-Elysées. Together, Gorska and Lipska renovated an old farmhouse for the wealthy American Barbara Harrison. The barn was converted to a living/dining room with a loft bar. The floor and walls of one bathroom were covered with orange, yellow, and gold mosaics with fixtures in yellow copper. Its sunken bath, fitted with built-in padded elbow rests, was lined in blue mosaic. Another bathroom was a veritable jungle of Raoul Dufy-like exuberance with its mural wall and door panels surrounding the bathtub. In contrast to the luxury of the baths and more in keeping with the modern novement, bedrooms in the home are surprisingly spartan and functional with simple stripped-down beds and desks.

It is not only Thérèse Bonney who offers us a detailed description of the building; Howard Roberston and Frank Yerbury, in a 1930 article in London’s The Architect and Building News, chortle in high praise of this renovation, even going as far as to state that

[m]en are not alone in feeling this modern urge for breadth and space. One might suggest that modernism was ruthless, even brutal, and that these attributes are masculine. But we have evidence in a series of striking modern interiors, that women are equally responding to the urge for modern expression. We can glimpse, too, in these rooms designed and decorated by women artists, the great possibilities which the modern movement opens up for a field of women’s activity..... And women, with their instinct for decoration, ... have, if they will, a great opportunity before them.

Around 1930, Gorska met the architect Pierre de Montaut (born 1892 in Oloron Sainte-Marie; diploma 1947 from Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Toulouse) while both worked in the architectural office of Molinié and Nicot. After their marriage, c. 1934, the pair became well-known for a series of modern French cinemas for the Cinéac group. By 1932, Gorska was a full member of the Union des artistes modernes (UAM, founded 1930), a group that was seminal in bringing modern design and architecture to the French public. Gorska’s connection with UAM may have helped to land her a commission for the Polish Pavilion at the 1937 Exposition internationale des arts et téchniques appliqués à la vie moderne in Paris. In the summer of 1939, while Tamara de Lempicka left for the USA, Gorska and de Montaut, together with their niece, went to Poland where they were commissioned by Pathé Nathan to build newsreel cinemas. They left Poland on August 31, 1939, nearly colliding with tanks as they crossed the Maginot Line to get back to France. Hitler invaded Poland the next day. Kizette apparently continued to stay with her aunt and uncle in occupied France until 1941 when her mother managed to get her passage to the United States. Shortly before the second World War Gorska’s work list stops abruptly and enigmatically. Pierre de Montaut died in 1947. Kizette de Lempicka remembered that her aunt’s funeral took place in southern France in October 1969.

Title | Introduction | Work list Adrienne Gorska | Other useful information | Documents of interest

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Last modified on: Wednesday, 17-Oct-2007 14:40:57 EDT by Mark B. Gerus