Bioshock & Tamara De Lempicka


Burial At Sea

Announcements for the sequel to the popular Rapture-centric DLC to Bioshock Infinite are making the rounds again, including the key visual painting from the first instalment. I felt this is a good occasion to talk to you about Tamara de Lempicka and her influence on the Bioshock series.

Lempicka is a painter from the Art Deco era. She was born in 1889 and her body of work is a rich and authentic time capsule for the aesthetics, architecture, fashion and style of the the early 1900s.

This makes her paintings an invaluable resource for anybody trying to channel Art Deco in their work or for anyone aiming to make period pieces set in the early 20th century. Bioshock’s Rature setting – as found in the first two instalments of the series and revisited in the Burial At Sea DLCs for Bioshock Infinite – is just doing that. A bloody Art Deco theme park, well researched and with more than one nod to Lempicka’s iconic work.


Tamara de Lempicka at work and one of her various portrait paintings, showing the Duchess de la Salle, 1925.

Her Work

Lempicka’s paintings are rather distinct in their execution, their style and subject matter. Most of her work consists of nudes and portrait work. Her portraits show men and women – mostly rich men and women – in the styling and fashion of the times, all presented with a grandios film star flair.


Her painting style is graphic but still sculptural. She defines 2D shapes with clear contours and then proceeds to shade the shapes individually, while staying within their contours. She prefers to use one dominant light source coming from the left or right, bright flats and dark shadows. A distinct handwriting in oil.


The way she paints creates a form language for her nudes and portraits similar to sculptures of the Art Deco era. This gets especially obvious, when her work is compared to relief sculptures of famous Art Deco architecture, like the Rockefella Center in New York.


tamara lempicka rockafella center and bioshock

A nude painting by Lempicka and the entrance to the GE building at the Rockefella Center NY. Both turned to greyscale and adjusted for contrast.

Even when looking at what is behind and around the human figures she paints, we find Art Deco iconography. Her paintings are stuffed with floral decors, patterns, print design, architecture, and other images typical for the period.


Left a section of a typical Lempicka and right we have a section of the original movie poster for the french release of Metropolis.

Lempicka In Bioshock

When it comes to the references for the design team behind Bioshock’s Rapture, Lempicka is just one of many sources getting channeled in the many rich designs of the games. But she also get’s quoted from time to time. For example in the theme park ride sequence in Bioshock 2.

Once we reach the diorama regarding the arts, we see that the paintings on the easels are an homage to Lempicka’s work. Her work was chosen to represent what “art” is by Andrew Ryan.





The key visual for Burial At Sea directly mimics her painting style for the portrait of Elisabeth. The part with Booker however is something else. The loud colors, the graffiti edges and splatters are not part of Lempicka’s handwriting.


The illustrator put a lot of effort into making it look traditionally painted, adding textures and smears.




… Lempicka’s work is now featured as cover art for modern volumes of several Ayn Rand novels, published by Penguin books. Lempicka’s connection to the era is deep. She lived it, performed it, documented it in paint and helped define it through her creative vision.


I recommend doing an image search on her or checking out some book collection of her work, if you are at all interested in the Art Deco period as found in Bioshock’s underwater utopia.


Today (11.feb.2014) a post by tumblr user cassidymandel came my way, pointing me to where Booker’s red paint appearance and the overall composition of the piece was channeled from. I know it’s a bit of a tangent, but here is a comparison to the french poster for a noir movie:


This Gun For Hire belongs to Paramount Pictures, imdb page.

I googled for the english title and found “This Gun For Hire” from 1942. It’s interesting to see how the artists used Lempicka for the feminine side of the poster and went straight to pulp/film noir references for booker. A nice amalgam. I added some alternative posters from the movie, for further comparison, showing that elements from other posters of the same movie have been channeled and remixed with Lempicka’s painting style:



Even for Elizabeth’s portrait, elements from the movie posters have been adapted. (mirrored for direct comparison)

6 Replies to “Bioshock & Tamara De Lempicka”

  1. Tamara Łempicka born in Warsaw, or Moscow? in 1898. Tamara Rosalia Gurwicz-Górska, father Borys Gurwik-Gorski, mother Malwina Dekler.
    Regards MS

  2. You might want to correct an error in the second paragraph – Tamara de Lempicka was born in 1898, not 1989.

    If you’re particular as I am, you might want to put the “d” in “de” as lowercase instead of uppercase as well.

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