The Last Nude
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“As erotic and powerful as the paintings that inspired it.”—Emma Donoghue, author of Room
Paris, 1927. One day in July, a young American named Rafaela Fano gets into the car of a coolly dazzling stranger, the Art Deco painter Tamara de Lempicka. Struggling to support herself, Rafaela agrees to model for the artist, a dispossessed Saint Petersburg aristocrat with a murky past. The two become lovers, and Rafaela inspires Tamara’s most iconic Jazz Age images, among them her most accomplished—and coveted—works of art. A season as the painter’s muse teaches Rafaela some hard lessons: Tamara is a cocktail of raw hunger and glittering artifice. And all the while, their romantic idyll is threatened by history’s darkening tide. A tour de force of historical imagination, The Last Nude is about genius and craft, love and desire, regret and, most of all, hope that can transcend time and circumstance.
Hotel, and we were heading out for a matinee: I hadn’t known the opera house would be just across the street, or that the opera boxes were designed to function like private rooms in restaurants. I was just glad to be free of that hotel room for a while. The terrasse of the hotel was itself a miniature opera, with its jewel-colored drinks and its coffees, its wrapped squares of chocolate and cubes of sugar, its speakers of many languages, each one smoking expressively. Leaving behind the leafy
extreme, I took off my clothes and looked at myself in the mirror, my familiar, fleshy body made strange and glittering to me, not just by Tamara’s eccentric eye, but by the crowd’s. At the other pole, I smoked half a cigarette and touched it to my skin, then flinched away, sickened, before locking the memory of Maggey’s scream up in a box. Finally, unable to sleep, I worked on Ira’s dress, the sky ebbing white as I tied off the last knot. Gin was out for the night, or I would have woken her.
dressed?” I pointed at Ira’s face: the large green eyes, the long nose, the warily hopeful mouth. “You slept with her, too,” I said, choking. “Rafaela. I am an artist. Do you think I cannot look at a beautiful woman and just paint?” I closed my eyes in reply, hurt. “Do you think I sleep with all my models? Or just the ones who sit on my couch and waste my time with silly accusations?” “That’s not fair,” I said. “Guess what? I have Ira’s money for you here, and she loves the dress you made.
mentioning the banknotes in my purse. “I think you should hide the painting while we’re gone,” I said. “That, or take it with us to Italy. We could leave it at one of your friends’ houses, for safekeeping.” I watched Tamara silently consider and reject a series of possible hiding places before arriving at a new problem: “Won’t Boucard know if we take a painting to Italy?” “Only if you frame it first, right?” Tamara’s eyes went gray, slid away from me like minnows. “Truuue,” she mused, her
perching on the very edge of the couch. “Okay, shoot.” “I’m sorry about those things I said earlier.” Kizette, pouring Hector’s drink, glances up at us, frankly jealous. Hector looks startled, and worried about me—I suppose I don’t apologize often—but he’s still hurt, too. “Then why did you say them?” “I thought you moved my Saint Anthony, but now I know it was Kizette.” Hector and Kizette exchange glances. There’s a long silence, until the weariness in Kizette’s face finally congeals into