The Last Nude

Written by Ellis Avery
Review by Arleigh Johnson

In this stunningly intimate reimagining of an important year in the life of Tamara de Lempicka, we follow the young woman who was her muse for several famous paintings, in particular La Belle Rafaela. On her way from the United States to Italy, Rafaela Fano stole away to France to escape an arranged marriage. Destitute and nearing desperation, a chance meeting with Tamara turned into a lucrative job, and eventually a relationship between the two women.

Once La Belle Rafaela was finished and set to appear at the Salon, selling even before the event, two mysterious art enthusiasts begin to vie for Tamara’s remaining works – especially the ones featuring Rafaela. Mostly told through Rafaela’s perspective, we find in her an honest protagonist, sympathetically portrayed and easily liked. Tamara’s character, however, is an intriguing mix of credulous wonder and grudging admiration that has the reader questioning her motives.

I found this to be an engrossing tale, with fascinating period details and excellent character development. Rafaela’s budding interest in fashion and Tamara’s painting techniques give the story, along with its setting in 1920s Paris, a great appeal for historical fiction readers, as well as art and biography fans. My one qualm was the lack of details regarding Rafaela’s later years, though perhaps the author felt it more historically accurate as is, or is allowing the reader to decide the fate of beautiful Rafaela.