The Last Nude


Scroll down to read praise for The Last Nude from The Boston Globe, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post, SF Weekly, Vogue, Curve, The Daily Beast, O: The Oprah Magazine, and more, including starred reviews from Booklist and Library Journal.

Click on the following links to read interviews with Ellis Avery about the writing of The Last Nude:

With Jacki Lyden on NPR

With Kerri Walsh on Public Culture

With Emma Donoghue on Amazon

With Jennifer Epstein on Sheepish Fashionista

With Elaine Lies on Reuters

With Jami Attenberg on Emusic

With Christine Cody on Nota Bene

With Ella Delany on Columbia

With Linda Zemmel in the Examiner

With Elizabeth Mosier in the Bryn Mawr Alumnae Bulletin

The Last Nude breaks important ground for literature, and does so with exuberance, skill and grace.
---Carolina De Robertis, The San Francisco Chronicle, 1/1/12.

Writing [The Last Nude] was an act of courage and a display of exceptional talent. Publishing it was an act of good judgment, and a leap of faith.
---Meredith Maran, The Boston Globe, 1/8/12.

[The Last Nude is] a compulsively readable novel that brings to life a diva whose biography is as titillating as her paintings. ---Kathryn Lang, The Washington Post, 1/27/12.

Praise from O: The Oprah Magazine---

The Left Bank in the '20s, famous artists, lots of (bi)sexuality and betrayal--what's not to love about Ellis Avery's romantic novel, The Last Nude? (Riverhead) Based on the lives of Deco painter Tamara de Lempicka and one of her muses, it tells the story of Rafaela, a young occasional prostitute who decides it's safer to get paid as an artist's model. But what Rafaela hasn't factored into the bargain is what would happen if she fell deeply in love with the secretive and very sexy Tamara, who may or may not love her back. Over the course of several months, Rafaela poses for Tamara, sleeps with her, and lives in the high-flying bohemian world of Gertrude Stein and an American journalist named Anson Hall, who might remind readers of Ernest Hemingway. Eventually-- to no one's surprise but Rafaela's--Tamara (who, it is slowly revealed, almost never tells the truth about herself) trades her young lover for the most bourgeois of passions: financial security. Did Tamara ever really care about Rafaela? In the last section of the book, told in the voice of an 80-something de Lempicka, Avery hints at an answer. Meanwhile, we've been loving this tough-but-vulnerable heroine all along.
---Sarah Nelson, O: The Oprah Magazine, January 2012

[The Last Nude is] an erotic pas de deux between the artist and a comely naïf bewildered to discover that her beauty no longer belongs to her.
---Megan O'Grady, Vogue, February, 2012.

A starred review for THE LAST NUDE from Booklist---

Those eyes! Those lips! That hair! Tamara de Lempicka's iconic Jazz Age paintings that immortalize Rafaela Fano in her nude glory (especially The Dream and La Belle Rafaela) now see glittering, luminescent life in Avery's novel, a riveting lesbian love story of heart-stopping passion, rapture, and stunning duplicity. In 1920s Paris, Tamara, her world lost to the Russian Revolution, is painting "for anyone who'd lost a world, too...making our heaven myself, stroke by stroke." Avery (The Teahouse Fire, 2007) places lovers Tamara and Rafaela within a richly portrayed circle of cultural touchstones, including Romaine Brooks and Natalie Barney, Jean Cocteau, Picasso, Gertrude Stein, and Sylvia Beach, the American ex-pat who published James Joyce's Ulysses and founded Shakespeare and Company, a bookstore-haven for artistic souls. Against that brightly pigmented background, this artist-model lovers' tale is as subtle and seductive as the silk Rafaela "listens to with her hands" as she designs a slip for her beloved, as stirring as Rafaela (whose survival depends on her beauty), radiant after her first experience of sex for pleasure, seeing Paris as "a rose-windowed city," and thinking, "This always. Just this." Avery's breathtaking shimmer of first love and its aftermath will turn heads.
---Whitney Scott, Booklist, 12/1/11

A starred review-- and a spot on the 25 Top Fiction Titles from January through April 2012--from Library Journal---

In 1927, bold and glamorous Polish artist Tamara de Lempicka encountered 17-year-old Rafaela while in Paris's Bois de Boulogne and took her home, using her as a model for six significant paintings (including Beautiful Rafaela) and briefly becoming her lover. De Lempicka was working on a copy of Beautiful Rafaela when she died in 1980.

Inspired by these bare facts, Avery (The Teahouse Fire) has crafted an evocative, heart-cutting work that imagines the relationship between artist and model. Traveling from New York to Italy for an arranged marriage, Rafaela escapes from her chaperone and, "trad[ing] sex for a train ticket," heads for Paris. There she's gloriously free but living on the edge; when de Lempicka finds her, she's gone to borrow money from a street-walking friend.

Avery does a lot for us here, creating two stunning characters--the earthy, heartfelt Rafaela and the conniving de Lempicka--then shows us both the heat of their relationship and the very act of creating art. In the bargain, we get Paris itself, particularly demimonde and artistic, boiling over with possibility.

VERDICT: Absorbing, affecting, and agitating--you'll end up wanting to punch de Lempicka--this work is highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 7/5/11.]
---Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal, 10/15/11

Praise from More Magazine---

The Last Nude by Ellis Avery is a taut, elegant novel that imagines an intense love affair between the painter Tamara de Lempicka and her model Rafaela, a young American, in 1920s Paris. The aristocratic Tamara has a flair for business. Rafaela, openhearted despite the sordid ways in which she's had to barter herself in the past, is a loyal muse. How ambition corrupts and clouds us is the focus of Avery's story, but she's at her best when she revels in the allure of art and love. Whether describing a painting or Rafaela's sexual awakening, her prose sings: "I was a leaping dog. I was liquor; I was laughter; I was a sliding girl on a shining rail: something I'd forgotten how to be."
---Shira Nayman, More Magazine, 11/8/11

SF Weekly---

Since it thrives on candor and the imaginative input of the reader, the novel stands as the only medium to portray sex as anything like what sex is actually like. In Ellis Avery's The Last Nude, the sex-- between painter Tamara de Lempicka and the model who posed for her 1927 work La Belle Rafaela-- feels ripe and real and vital, the very element that artist, model, and masterwork together create, inhabit, and flourish within. Avery likewise summons ecstasy from brushstrokes and fabrics, and, toward the novel's end, from memory itself. This all takes place in Paris...but the novel is for the most part too tough-minded to fall into nostalgia for the Malcom Cowley crew. The no-big-deal way that young Rafaela, the narrator, slips into prostitution in the opening chapters reveals something of Avery's vision: a gorgeous Parisian love story, but not a polite or idealized one.
---Alan Scherstuhl, SF Weekly, 1/13/12.

The Daily Beast---

…at its heart, [The Last Nude] is a novel about craft. In addition to being a sexy model… Rafaela becomes an artisan in her own right, no longer the object of Tamara's gaze but a subject with her own ability to look, see, and create.

Seductive and compelling, the novel is painted with as much drama and precision as one of Lempicka's canvases… Once the novel switches to an elderly Tamara's point of view, narrated as she repaints Beautiful Rafaela on the last day of her life, the language is suddenly much tighter, more muscular. It is here that Avery's own craft is most apparent. In a series of scenes set in Mexico in 1980, Avery's portrait of the artist as an old lady blends Tamara's longing, frustration, paranoia, and diva-like demands as she feels death approaching. It is in this final section that Avery's ideas about art come soaring to the surface. Trying to understand why Rafaela was the perfect muse, Tamara realizes it is the right subject that brings out the artist's best abilities. "I remembered how it felt when she came to pose. A gratitude, a joy that translates badly into words. I know how to mix these colors. I know what to do with these lines." Words that form the credo of any artist who has hit her stride, be she painter, writer, or dressmaker. ---Lauren Elkin, The Daily Beast, 1/23/12

The SunBreak---

[The Last Nude is]an engaging hot-blooded-but-cold-eyed return to 1920s Paris… History shows that Tamara de Lempicka did paint a young woman, Rafaela, that she met at the Bois de Boulogne, six portraits altogether over the next six months to a year. They slept together. The details of Rafaela's life, though, are largely Avery's invention. Pople just don't follow around starving nude models, pestering them for their life stories, so Avery has filled in the blanks. I mention that because it becomes difficult to credit this Rafaela as a fictional personage, Avery has done her work so convincingly.

It was an inspired decision, in any event-- seeing Paris through Rafaela's eyes is to see the '20s in a new light. It's not just fashions that aspiring coutureère Rafaela describes, but the way she, the ur-teenage girl, keeps falling in love with views of the city and its inhabitants.

… Things change once de Lempicka enters the picture in her green Bugatti.… It's Rafaela's introduction not simply to sleeping with another woman, but to being seen publicly with her, as well. This requires a trip to Sylvia Beach's bookstore, where more famous names pop out of the woodwork (Hemingway appears as an alternate-reality Ernest, a wounded war correspondent who hasn't reinvented fiction).

If it seems a bit much, so do the actual Left Bank memoirs; the expatriate social circle just wasn't that large, and everyone gossiped about everyone else. The plot from here on out reminded me a bit of The Moderns, revolving as it does around the businesses of painting and art collecting and social standings. There are parties and intrigues that keep you turning pages too late at night. It's thrilling, but Paris has yet another face to show Rafaela, after the ball is over.

After 250 pages-- strewn with terrific aperçus like describing a fashion house's directrice as  "a black-clad picket of indignation" --Avery gives de Lempicka the last word, writing from her old age in Cuernavaca where she is working on her last painting. As was true in real life, it's a copy of an earlier portrait of Rafaela. An inexpungeable experience, Avery suggests. Artistic vision is ruthless to artists as well their models.
---Michael Van Baker, The SunBreak, 1/13/12


When Rafaela, a young New Yorker all alone in Paris, is recruited to pose for famous art deco painter Tamara de Lempicka, an affair quickly follows. As rich and fleshy as de Lempicka's iconic portraits, this love story is an evocative blend of history and fiction: Think a much sexier Midnight in Paris!
---Madeleine Cravit, Chatelaine, 1/15/12

The Last Nude named one of The Most Anticipated Books of 2012 by The Millions---

With starred reviews from both Booklist and Library Journal, Ellis Avery's second novel The Last Nude imagines the brief love affair between the glamorous Art Deco painter Tamara de Lempicka and the young muse for her most iconic painting The Beautiful Rafaela. Set in 1920s Paris, among the likes of Jean Cocteau, Picasso, Gertrude Stein, Sylvia Beach, and a fictional American journalist named Anson Hall (a sort of Ernest Hemingway type), Avery explores the costs of ambition, the erotics of sexual awakening, and the devastation that ensues when these two converge. Critics have praised The Last Nude as riveting, elegant, seductive, and breathtaking.
---Sonya, The Millions, 1/3/12

In this account of art deco painter Tamara de Lempicka's relationship with her model, Rafaela, buildings look like confections and sewing machines sound like cicadas. In fact, nearly every detail thrums with lush, sensual imagery. Rafaela is stumbling her way through Jazz Age Paris when she meets Tamara and becomes her lover and muse. Thérèse Plummer voices young Rafaela with a contemporary inflection and captures her appealing energy. Plummer also balances the young woman's naïveté with her somewhat desperate edges. Barbara Caruso narrates the artist's part just as convincingly, immersing herself in the role of the emotional Polish painter. Her accent and direct tone provide an appropriate contrast to Plummer's performance. This is an excellent production of a fascinating story.
---L.B.F., Audiofile, January 2012

Ellis Avery's sumptuous second novel, The Last Nude (Riverhead Books)… weaves the story of a hot affair, a creative meeting of the minds, and also of the radiant and contagious deceit between [Tamara and Rafaela].
---Sarah Burghauser, Lambda Literary, 12/21/11

Avery's second novel, The Last Nude, depicts how desire is productive-- differently productive, for different people--through the story of the love affair between the acclaimed Art Deco artist, Tamara de Lempicka and one of her models, her muse Rafaela Fano, who posed for a handful of portraits, including The Dream and, of course, Beautiful Rafaela

For Rafaela, the work of (making) art is bred from and stimulates desire; for Tamara, desire stimulates the production of art. Art embodies the sensations of those lived moments--ones that Tamara herself variously recalls (as painful, as pleasurable) in the second part of the book, in which she operates as the first-person narrator.

This is the difference between the artist and her muse; or, as Tamara bluntly articulates it, "[Rafaela] looked up at me then as if I were a dream she were having, and that's when I thought it: I can do whatever I want to her."

(I pause, placing my hand over my heart, every time I read this line… Ouch.)

The Last Nude is a quick, compelling read but one that will also arrest you at those particular moments where desire is made manifest through seduction, through the creation of the work of art (particularly while Tamara is painting Rafaela) and through the passionate contemplations of both women as they try to understand themselves in relation to, and through their relation to, one another.
---Marcie Bianco, Velvet Park, 1/5/12

Many new with more fictional flourish than others-- the lives of LGBT historical figures. Most notable among them is acclaimed lesbian author Ellis Avery's The Last Nude (Riverhead Books), which is a lush work of historical fiction that imagines a love affair between bisexual Art Deco painter Tamara de Lempicka and a young American woman who serves as muse for her most iconic work, Beautiful Rafaela (a painting that London's Sunday Times called one of the most remarkable nudes of the 20th century.)
---Diane Anderson-Minshall, The Advocate, December 2011.

In 1927, Tamara de Lempicka was one of the fastest rising stars of the Parisian art scene, with a distinctive style built on sharp lines and bold colors that stood out even among its Art Deco contemporaries. Ellis Avery, the Lambda-winning author of The Teahouse Fire, turns this pivotal year in Tamara's career into a Character Approved drama of love, manipulation, and betrayal in her latest novel, The Last Nude

Avery creates a backstory for some of Tamara's most famous paintings from that year, such as La Belle Rafaela and The Dream, imagining their model Rafaela as a 17-year-old girl from New York City who ran off to Paris to escape her parents' attempt to marry her to an Italian cousin. She's walking through the Bois de Boulogne, looking for one of her friends so she can borrow 100 francs to buy a dress she needs for a new job, when Tamara steps out of her car and asks if she'll model for her. Rafaela ends up bailing on the job to continue posing at Tamara's apartment studio, and soon becomes caught up in a passionate affair with the older, sophisticated artist. (And while the details of Rafaela's life in Paris may be imagined, Tamara's recruitment of her as both a model and lover are true.)

The love scenes are highly charged, but what matters most in The Last Nude is is how the relationship sets Rafaela on the path to confident adulthood. Though confused about her feelings at first, she comes to realize (with help from some timely visits to the legendary Shakespeare & Company bookstore run by Sylvia Beach and Adrienne Monneur) that it would be possible for two women to make a life for themselves together. The question is: Does Tamara care about Rafaela as a person, or as the inspiration for beautiful paintings that drive wealthy art collectors to fight each other to possess? But just when you think you know the answer, Avery flips the board and makes you see the story through Tamara's eyes. The reversal adds one final layer of poignancy to a powerful novel of self-awakening.
----Ron Hogan, on the USA Network's Character Approved blog, 1/10/12

"Scintillating" and "titillating" are two words that barely begin to describe Ellis Avery's beautifully written, erotically charged second novel, The Last Nude.
---Megan Fishmann, BookPage, December 2011.
Book of the Day, BookPage, January 16, 2012.

Where has [Ellis Avery] been all my life?! I'm a fan for life now!

…First, the setting. I'm mad for Paris in the late '20s and I love the circle of artists the novel focuses on; Avery creates the ambiance without bogging down the story in details. There's a mix of hard scrabble poverty and excessive wealth, titles and nobodies, post-war and pre-war. The novel references de Lempicka's art from 1927 on, which can be seen online -- and should, because they're gorgeous. And sexy.

Second, the characters. I really fell in love with everyone, even the unappealing ones, the shameful ones, the shameless ones, the selfish jerks and the too-saintly-to-be true mouses. They felt real to me, even though Avery doesn't spend tons of time describing them, either. (I'm afraid I'm making this sound like the narrative is thin, but it isn't!) Through snappy dialogue and Rafaela's viewpoint (and for a brief time, Tamara's) we see meet these rapacious souls (food, money, sex, artistic inspiration, safety -- the need various, but there's unceasing hunger!). Shamefully (?), I liked Tamara despite her cruel, predatory, and selfish behavior, because Avery made her so real for me. The manipulative, passionate woman we see through Rafaela's eyes tells her side of the story, briefly, late in life.

And finally, the writing. This novel races even though it isn't a fast-paced or intricately plotted novel. The hot burn of desire propels the story; like Rafaela impatient for the day to end so she can go to Tamara, I was impatient for the next liaison, the next drink, the next painting. I ate up every word because each sentence fulfilled and left me yearning. The end of the book killed me dead in the best way, oh-so-bittersweet and sad and yummy.
---Audra at Unabridged Chick, 1/19/12

In her new novel, The Last Nude, Ellis Avery create[s] a book so human it practically sweats with longing...

The story is a compelling and vivid romance, but even more exhilarating is Avery's prose. Through Rafaela, Paris becomes a sensual bouquet of sounds and flavors and textures. Even the nameless passers-by are infused with character through her sense of gesture and body language. All of this infuses Rafaela's story with the wide-eyed energy of discovery and enchantment. So alive does the character of Rafaela come across, the book could almost be mistaken for her private diary, written in the fever pitch of unbridled love and romantic lust...

As in Avery's previous novel, The Teahouse Fire, the story is very driven. Characters in motion remain in motion, whether crossing the Boulevard du Montparnasse or yearning for an absent lover, and "Nude" hardly gives you a moment to catch your breath before the next social faux pas at a salon leads to a heartbreaking tryst in the pre-dawn hours. Ellis Avery has crafted a fine cognac of a novel that makes the heart ache with joy and the fingers grope for a paintbrush.
---Greg Baldino, New City Lit, 3/7/12

The Last Nude is a fascinating look at love, art, and betrayal. Highly recommended."
---Heather Aimee O'Neill,

The Last Nude was beautifully written and engaging with characters that were complex and felt real. I cared about them, even when I didn't want to. The author did a fantastic job of grabbing me and holding on throughout the entire book.
---Cheri Fuller, C-Spot Reviews, 1/16/12.

The Last Nude delivers a sexy, romantic reading experience that illuminates not only a particular time and place but also the enduring problem of the human spirit, petty and sublime by turns.
---Margaret Donsbach,, January 2012

The Last Nude is one hell of an interesting story... Tamara and Rafaela's affair burns up the pages of this book.
---Cassandra Langer, The Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide, 7/5/12

[The Last Nude is] "a dark, sexy romp."
---Kirkus Reviews

Ellis Avery was named one of 100 Women We Love by GO magazine in 2011 for her work on The Teahouse Fire and The Last Nude.

cover: The Dream (1927) by Tamara de Lempicka
The young woman in this painting also modeled for
Tamara de Lempicka's 1927 Beautiful Rafaela.
She is the narrator of The Last Nude.



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