Portrait of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema Painting Reproductions Gallery 2 of 8

1836-1912

Dutch Painter, Victorian Neoclassicism

The outbreak of the Franco Prussian War in July 1870 compelled Alma-Tadema to leave the continent and move to London. His infatuation with Laura Epps played a great part in his relocation to England and Gambart felt that the move would be advantageous to the artist's career. In stating his reasons for the move, Tadema simply said: I lost my first wife, a French lady with whom I married in 1863, in 1869. Having always had a great predilection for London, the only place where, up till then my work had met with buyers, I decided to leave the continent and go to settle in England, where I have found a true home.

With his small daughters and sister Artje, Alma-Tadema arrived in London at the beginning of September 1870. The painter wasted no time in contacting Laura, and it was arranged that he would give her painting lessons. During one of these, he proposed marriage. As he was then thirty-four and Laura was now only eighteen, her father was initially opposed to the idea. Dr Epps finally agreed on the condition that they should wait until they knew each other better. They married in July 1871. Laura, under her married name, also won a high reputation as an artist, and appears in numerous of Alma-Tadema's canvases after their marriage (The Women of Amphissa (1887) being a notable example). This second marriage was enduring and happy, though childless, and Laura became stepmother to Anna and Laurence.

Victorian Painter
After his arrival in England, where he was to spend the rest of his life, Alma-Tadema's career was one of continued success. He became one of the most famous and highly paid artists of his time, acknowledged and rewarded. By 1871 he had met and befriended most of the major Pre-Raphaelite painters and it was in part due to their influence that the artist brightened his palette, varigated hues and lightened his brushwork. In 1873 Alma-Tadema became a naturalized British subject.

The previous year he and his wife made a journey on the Continent that lasted five and a half months and took them through Brussels, Germany, and Italy. In Italy they were able to take-in the ancient ruins again; this time he purchased several photographs, mostly of the ruins, which began his immense collection of folios with archival material sufficient for the documentation used in the completion of future paintings. In January 1876, he rented a studio in Rome. The family returned to London in April, visiting the Parisian Salon on their way back.

Among the most important of his pictures during this period was An Audience at Agrippa's (1876). When an admirer of the painting offered to pay a substantial sum for a painting with a similar theme, Alma-Tadema simply turned the emperor around to show him leaving in After the Audience.

On June 19, 1879, Alma-Tadema was made a full Academician, his most personally important award. Three years later a major retrospective of his entire oeuvre was organized at the Grosvenor Gallery in London, including 185 of his pictures.

In 1883 he returned to Rome and, most notably, Pompeii, where further excavations had taken place since his last visit. He spent a significant amount of time studying the site, going there daily. These excursions gave him an ample source of subject matter as he began to further his knowledge of daily Roman life. At times, however, he integrated so many objects into his paintings that some said they resembled museum catalogues.

One of his most famous paintings is The Roses of Heliogabalus (1888) - based on an episode from the life of the infamously debauched Roman Emperor Elagabalus (Heliogabalus), the painting depicts the psychopathic Emperor suffocating his guest at an orgy under a cascade of rose petals. The blossoms depicted were sent weekly to the artist's London studio from the Riviera for four months during the winter of 1887- 1888.

Among Alma-Tadema's works of this period are: An Earthly Paradise (1891) Spring (1894), The Coliseum (1896) and The Baths of Caracalla (1899). Althuough Alma-Tadema fame rests on his paintings set in Antiquity, he also painted portraits, landscapes and watercolors, and made some etchings himself (although many more were made of his paintings by others).

Personality
For all the quiet charm and erudition of his paintings, Alma-Tadema himself preserved a youthful sense of mischief. He was childlike in his practical jokes and in his sudden bursts of bad temper, which could as suddenly subside into a most engaging smile.

In his personal life, Alma-Tadema was an extrovert and had a remarkably warm personality. He had most of the characteristics of a child, coupled with the admirable traits of a consummate professional. A perfectionist, he remained in all respects a diligent, if somewhat obsessive and pedantic worker. He was an excellent businessman, and one of the wealthiest artists of the nineteenth century. Alma-Tadema was as firm in money matters as he was with the quality of his work.

As a man, Lawrence Alma-Tadema was a robust, fun loving and rather portly gentleman. There was not a hint of the delicate artist about him; he was a cheerful lover of wine, women and parties.

Last Years
Alma-Tadema's output decreased with time, due in part to ill health but also to his obsession for decorating his new home where he moved in 1883. Nevertheless, he continued to exhibit throughout the 1880s and into the next decade, receiving a plentiful amount of accolades along the way, including the medal of Honor at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1889, election to an honorary member of the Oxford University Dramatic Society in 1890, the Great Gold Medal at the International Fine Arts Exposition in Brussels of 1897. In 1899 he was Knighted in England, only the eighth artist from the Continent to receive the honor. Not only did he assist with the organization of the British section at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris, he also exhibited two works that earned him the Grand Prix Diploma. He also assisted with the St. Louis World's Fair of 1904 where he was well represented and received.

During this time, Alma-Tadema was very active with theater design and production, designing many costumes. He also spread his artistic boundaries and began to design furniture, often modeled after Pompeian or Egyptian motifs, illustrations, textiles, and frame making. His diverse interests highlight his immense talents. Each of these exploits were used in his paintings, as he often incorporated some of his designed furniture into the composition, and must have used many of his own designs for the clothing of his female subjects. Through his last period of creativity Alma-Tadema continued to produce paintings, which repeat the successful formula of women in marble terraces overlooking the sea such as in Silver Favorites (1903). Between 1906 and his death six years later, Alma-Tadema painted less but still produced ambitions paintings like The Finding of Moses (1904).

On 15 August 1909 Alma-Tadema's wife, Laura, died at the age of fifty-seven. The grief-stricken widower outlived his second wife for less than three years. His last major composition was Preparation in the Coliseum (1912). In the summer of 1912, Alma Tadema was accompanied by his daughter Anna to Kaiserhof Spa, Wiesbaden, Germany where he was to undergo treatment for ulceration of the stomach. He died there on June 28, 1912 at the age of seventy-six. He was buried in a crypt in St. Paul's cathedral in London.

Style
Alma-Tadema's works are remarkable for the way in which flowers, textures and hard reflecting substances, like metals, pottery, and especially marble, are painted - indeed, his realistic depiction of marble led him to be called the 'marbelous painter'. His work shows much of the fine execution and brilliant colour of the old Dutch masters. By the human interest with which he imbues all his scenes from ancient life he brings them within the scope of modern feeling, and charms us with gentle sentiment and playfulness.

From early in his career, Alma-Tadema was particularly concerned with architectural accuracy, often including objects that he would see at museums - such as the British Museum in London - in his works. He also read many books and took many images from them. He amassed an enormous number of photographs from ancient sites in Italy, which he used for the most precise accuracy in the details of his compositions.

Alma-Tadema was a perfectionist. He worked assiduously to make the most of his paintings, often repeatedly reworking parts of paintings before he found them satisfactory to his own high standards. One humorous story relates that one of his paintings was rejected and instead of keeping it, he gave the canvas to a maid who used it as her table cover. He was sensitive to every detail and architectural line of his paintings, as well as the settings he was depicting. For many of the objects in his paintings, he would depict what was in front of him, using fresh flowers imported from across the continent and even from Africa, rushing to finish the paintings before the flowers died. It was this commitment to veracity that earned him recognition but also caused many of his adversaries to take up arms against his almost encyclopedic works.

Alma-Tadema's work has been linked with that of European Symbolist painters. As an artist of international reputation, he can be cited as an influence on European figures such as Gustav Klimt and Fernand Khnopff. Both painters incorporate classical motifs into their works and use Alma-Tadema's unconventional compositional devices such as abrupt cut-off at the edge of the canvas. They, like Alma-Tadema, also employ coded imagery to convey meaning to their paintings.

Reputation
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema was arguably the most successful painter of the Victorian era. For over sixty years he gave his audience exactly what they wanted: distinctive, elaborate paintings of beautiful people in classical settings. His incredibly detailed reconstructions of ancient Rome, with languid men and women posed against white marble in dazzling sunlight provided his audience with a glimpse of a world of the kind they might one day construct for themselves at least in attitude if not in detail.

Being a creature of his time, when the Victorian period ended so did his marketability. By the end of his career, art such as Alma-Tadema's was no longer appreciated as it had been before. New movements in art had begun and his imagery, which was thought of as “Victorians in togas,” fell out of favor. The end of Alma-Tadema's life saw the rise of Post-Impressionism, Fauvism, Cubism and Futurism, of which he heartily disapproved. As his pupil John Collier wrote, 'it is impossible to reconcile the art of Alma-Tadema with that of Matisse, Gauguin and Picasso.

Paintings which once would have sold for £10,000 a few years earlier were now practically impossible to sell at all. Some of his paintings could have been purchased for as little as £20 at that time. His artistic legacy almost vanished. As attitudes of the public in general and the artists in particular became more skeptical of the possibilities of human achievement, his paintings were increasingly denounced. He was declared "the worst painter of the 19th century" by John Ruskin, and one critic even remarked that his paintings were "about worthy enough to adorn bourbon boxes." After this brief period of being actively derided, he was consigned to relative obscurity for many years. Only in the last thirty years has Alma-Tadema's work been reevaluated for its importance within the nineteenth century, and more specifically, within the evolution of English art. He is now regarded as one of the principal classical-subject painters of the nineteenth century whose works demonstrate the care and exactitude of an era mesmerized by trying to visualize the past, some of which was being recovered through archaeological research.

Alma-Tadema's meticulous archaeological research, including research into Roman architecture (which was so thorough that every building featured in his canvases could have been built using Roman tools and methods) led to his paintings being used as source material by Hollywood directors in their vision of the ancient world for films such as D. W. Griffith's Intolerance (1916), Ben Hur (1926), Cleopatra (1934), and most notably of all, Cecil B. deMille's epic remake of The Ten Commandments (1956). Indeed, Jesse Lasky Jr., the co-writer on The Ten Commandments, described how the director would customarily spread out prints of Alma-Tadema paintings to indicate to his set designers the look he wanted to achieve. In his director's commentary on the DVD, Ridley Scott cited Alma-Tadema as an inspiration for the cityscapes in Gladiator.

In the late 1960s, the revival of interest in Victorian painting gained impetus, and a number of well-attended exhibitions were held. Allen Funt, the creator and host of the American version of the television show Candid Camera, was a collector of Alma-Tadema paintings at a time when the artist's reputation in the 20th century was at its nadir. After Funt was robbed by his accountant (who subsequently committed suicide), he was forced to sell his collection at Sotheby's in London in November 1973. From this sale, the interest in Alma-Tadema was re-awakened. In 1960, the Newman Gallery firstly tried to sell, then give away (without success) one of his most celebrated works ‘The Finding of Moses,' (1904). The initial purchaser had paid £5250 for it on its completion, but when the same picture was auctioned at Christies in New York in May 1995, it sold for £1.75 million.

174 Paintings of Alma-Tadema

A Silent Greeting
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
30.5 x 22.9 cm
Tate Gallery London United Kingdom

A Silent Greeting

1889
Oil Painting
$509
Canvas Print
$47.9
A Roman Emperor AD 41 - Claudius
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
83.8 x 174.2 cm
The Walters Art Museum Baltimore USA

A Roman Emperor AD 41 - Claudius

1872
Oil Painting
$1197
Canvas Print
$47.9
An Audience at Agrippa's
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
90.8 x 62.8 cm
Dick Institute Museum and Art Gallery Kilmarnock United Kingdom

An Audience at Agrippa's

1875
Oil Painting
$913
Canvas Print
$47.9
Cherries
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
79 x 129 cm
Koninklijk Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp Belgium

Cherries

1873
Oil Painting
$509
Canvas Print
$74.29
Boating
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
unknown
Museum Mesdag The Hague Netherlands

Boating

1868
Oil Painting
$540
Between Hope and Fear
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
78.1 x 128.2 cm
Private Collection

Between Hope and Fear

1876
Oil Painting
$568
Canvas Print
$47.9
An Oleander
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
92.8 x 64.7 cm
Private Collection

An Oleander

1882
Oil Painting
$575
Canvas Print
$47.9
Comparisons
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
45.7 x 61 cm
Private Collection

Comparisons

1892
Oil Painting
$584
Canvas Print
$66.9
Confidences
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
unknown
Walker Art Gallery Liverpool United Kingdom

Confidences

1869
Oil Painting
$591
In My Studio
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
unknown
Private Collection

In My Studio

1893
Oil Painting
$496
An Egyptian Juggler
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
78.7 x 49.5 cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales Sydney Australia

An Egyptian Juggler

1870
Oil Painting
$1244
Canvas Print
$47.9
Joseph, Overseer of Pharaoh's Granaries
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
35 x 45.7 cm
Dahesh Museum of Art New York USA

Joseph, Overseer of Pharaoh's Granaries

1874
Oil Painting
$575
Canvas Print
$47.9
Entrance to a Roman Theater
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
unknown
Private Collection

Entrance to a Roman Theater

1866
Oil Painting
$1114
The Golden Hour
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
35.5 x 35.5 cm
Private Collection

The Golden Hour

1908
Oil Painting
$428
Canvas Print
$47.9
The Kiss
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
45.7 x 62.7 cm
Private Collection

The Kiss

1891
Oil Painting
$549
Canvas Print
$68.77
The Tepidarium
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
24.2 x 33 cm
Lady Lever Art Gallery Port Sunlight United Kingdom

The Tepidarium

1881
Oil Painting
$486
Canvas Print
$47.9
My Sister Is Not In
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
40.5 x 31.2 cm
The Walters Art Museum Baltimore USA

My Sister Is Not In

1879
Oil Painting
$584
Canvas Print
$47.9
In the Time of Constantine
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
32.2 x 16 cm
William Morris Gallery London United Kingdom

In the Time of Constantine

1878
Oil Painting
$540
Canvas Print
$47.9
Pheidias and the Frieze of the Parthenon, Athens
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
75.3 x 107.5 cm
Museum and Art Gallery Birmingham United Kingdom

Pheidias and the Frieze of the Parthenon, Athens

1868
Oil Painting
$921
Canvas Print
$68.11
In the Peristyle
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
unknown
Private Collection

In the Peristyle

1866
Oil Painting
$591
A Reading from Homer
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
91.8 x 183.5 cm
Philadelphia Museum of Art Pennsylvania USA

A Reading from Homer

1885
Oil Painting
$735
Canvas Print
$59.98
Etruscan Vase Painters
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
unknown
Manchester Art Gallery Manchester United Kingdom

Etruscan Vase Painters

1871
Oil Painting
$549
Canvas Print
$61.78
Spring
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
178.4 x 80 cm
J. Paul Getty Museum Los Angeles USA

Spring

1894
Oil Painting
$4616
Canvas Print
$54.19
Poetry
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
unknown
National Museum of Wales Cardiff United Kingdom

Poetry

1879
Oil Painting
$478