Lawrence Alma-Tadema Blog

Alma-Tadema's Wonderful Daughters

Jan 22 2012 10:13PM | by Staff Editor

In a previous post we examined the life and career of Lady Laura Alma-Tadema, Sir Lawrence’s second wife. Lady Laura, née Epps, had first met Sir Lawrence when he was 33 and she was just 17, becoming his painting student and within just over a years, his wife. While Lady Laura’s work was similar in some ways to the Romanticist style that her husband favoured, as her career progressed she became more specialised, focusing almost exclusively on domestic subjects and scenes. Works such as At The Doorway (1898), Always Welcome (1887) and Sweet Industry (1904) are all classic examples of the style and subject that became central in her oeuvre, in contrast to the Classicism and Academicism that Sir Lawrence devoted himself to. Lady Laura was a successful artist in her own right, with her work being exhibited at the Paris Salon, the Paris International Exhibition and at the Grosvenor Gallery and the British Royal Academy of Arts in London. However it wasn’t just Sir Lawrence and Lady Laura who were representing the Alma-Tadema family name in the field of the humanities and the arts. Sir Lawrence had of course two daughters from his first marriage to Marie-Pauline Gressin in... Read more

Flight To Egypt

Jan 10 2012 05:07PM | by Staff Editor

Early in his career until the mid-1860s, Merovingian themes were central to the work of Dutch Classicist, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema. Scenes from Frankish history such as the iconic 1861 work The Education Of The Children Of Clovis were hugely popular in Belgium and helped to establish his stature and reputation. However by the mid-1860s Alma-Tadema started to realise that paintings with Merovingian subjects were not selling well internationally, partly due to the lack of widespread knowledge and therefore lack of appeal of the early Salian Frankish dynasties. As a man who was as focused on commercial success as he was on critical acclaim, he did the only thing that he considered to be sensible under the circumstances, and switched his subject matter to something that would have more widespread international commercial appeal – the Egyptians. In a way he was playing the lowest common denominator card, but the same could be said of his decision to hyphenate his middle name ‘Alma’ with his surname ‘Tadema’ in order to appear nearer the front of art catalogues. Alma-Tadema knew his market and he gave them what they wanted. Many of the details in his early Egyptian inspired artworks like Death Of The... Read more

Alma-Tadema And The Trappings Of Wealth

Dec 27 2011 02:02PM | by Staff Editor

Nowadays when we think of Victorian Classical artist Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, we often associate him and the artwork he produced with excess, decadence and luxury. There are examples to back up this notion throughout his oeuvre and throughout the life that he led. His oil on canvas depictions of classical antiquity were deliberately opulent and many of the historical eras that he focused on, and indeed many of the historic individuals who served as inspirations to his work, were popularly characterised in Victorian times for their unrestrained lavishness and for their hedonistic overindulgences, with characters from ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome and for a time the Merovingian dynasty, inspiring his canvases at one point or another. Alma-Tadema’s paintings were filled with rich and evocative materials as well. His unequalled treatment of marble is probably the best example of this, but precious metals and jewels, luxurious fabrics and drapery, vivid flowers and, in keeping with his reputation as a research expert, accurate representations of priceless artefacts and of historical architecture, all helped to populate his canvas and add to the appeal that his work could garner. Indeed, few other artists were as adept or as driven in their quest to create luxurious... Read more

The Roses Of Heliogabalus

Dec 25 2011 09:47PM | by Staff Editor

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s 1888 oil on canvas work The Roses Of Heliogabalus is one of his most famous works and is currently part of a private collection. The Alma-Tadema oil painting, like so many others, is inspired by a story from Ancient Roman history. The tale concerns the Roman Emperor Elgabalus, also known as Heliogabalus, who lived from 203 until 222, reigning for just four years from 218 until his assassination at the age of 18 by his own guards. His 18 years were pretty action packed though, and whether he was offending the gods, marrying and divorcing one of his five wives, or disguising himself as a woman and working as a prostitute in Roman taverns, you can be sure that playwrights and artists were rubbing their hands with excitement at his latest exploits. So which of his eccentricities drew the esteemed Alma-Tadema to choose him as a subject for one of his canvases? Well, it was story, of dubitable veracity, concerning an attempt by the young Heliogabalus to kill a room full of guests (it’s what people in the ancient world did to each other). The story (along with many of his other reportedly bizarre behavioural traits) is... Read more

Bits and bobs from Sir Lawrence’s life

Nov 28 2011 07:54PM | by Staff Editor

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema certainly lived a full and privileged life, all things considered. Born with immense talent, he combined God given ability with a prodigious work ethic to conquer his contemporary art world. A painter of classical and historical subject matters, he rose to fame and fortune with his exquisite paintings mostly of the decadence and lavishness of the Roman Empire; one aspect of his painting that set him apart was his near photographic rendition of marble – yes, marble, and the dazzling skies and architecture contained within his canvas’s four sides. In the next few blogs we’d like to examine three things that all directly contributed to building the man so revered today: the first aspect is the school where he first trained. Lawrence Alma-Tadema was born in the northern part of the Netherlands, the sixth child of Pieter Jiltes Tadema and the third child of his mother, Hinke Dirks Brouwer, who each had prior marriages. We’ll avoid the intricacies of such a modern family, but suffice to say employment issues brought the family to the town of Leeuwarden in 1838. Lawrence’s early education steered him to become a lawyer, but at the age of 15 he suffered a... Read more

Influences on Alma-Tadema oil paintings, continued

Nov 27 2011 07:08PM | by Staff Editor

In this blog post we’ll continue to examine the major influences and oil paintings in Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema’s life. The Dutch artist was born in Dronrijp, present day Netherlands, and trained at the Royal Academy of Antwerp, Belgium, a famous institution that we examined in the last post. Although he would eventually moved to England in 1870 and spend the rest of his life there, much of Alma Tadema’s crucial training took place on the European mainland. As a classical subject painter the continent provided easy access to some of history’s most famous sites, especially those in Italy of which he most loved to illustrate. One key influence in helping him develop as an artist was Egide Charles Gustave Wappers, a well-known Belgian painter who was born August 23, 1803, and died December 6, 1874, in Paris. Baron Wappers, most well known as Gustave Wappers, was a student and teacher at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, where he would teach Sir Lawrence. Wappers was known to be an adventurous artist early in his career – in the1820s the Romantic Movement was stirring with its fresh ideas about politics and art and Wappers was the primary Belgian... Read more

Alma Tadema oil painting and real estate

Oct 30 2011 10:16AM | by Staff Editor

“Nothing can be done well without taking trouble. You must work hard if you mean to succeed” – Lawrence Alma Tadema. Sir Lawrence is often admired as the foremost painter of the school of Academic Realism – one that faint-hearted and flighty aspiring painters should definitely steer clear from. He shirked no detail, and in the words of one critic “no vagueness of line will this advocate of thoroughness allow to any timid or indolent pupil”. Tadema was not just a master of art, but a historian and even an amateur archaeologist in his own right. It is hard to emphasise just how much research and planning went into any Alma-Tadema oil painting; an equal amount of research and planning went into building his house in London, which was widely admired as the “most beautiful” of its time in 1912. Alma-Tadema and wife Laura initially enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle at a Townshend House styled house in Tichfield Terrace, Regent’s Park. Always with a keen eye towards history, Alma Tadema remodelled this home in the style of a villa from one of his favourite historical periods, Pompeii. Tragically, the home was destroyed in 1874 in a freak accident: a barge loaded... Read more

Alma-Tadema paintings on sale! Quick, to New York!

Oct 18 2011 09:29AM | by Staff Editor

Alicia Keys may have sung New York is the concrete jungle where dreams are made of, and if you have several million to splurge, you might just be able to make your dream come true and own an original Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema artwork this November. In a rare move by Sotheby’s New York, a number of coveted artworks by the high-demand artist will be sold at its 19th Century European Art sale on November 4. The 19th century is a long time, with many schools represented including Victorian and Edwardian romanticism, the Barbizon school and of course, Alma Tadema and Academic Realism. It is here where the juiciest fruits are ripe for the picking. If anyone has a fine record for selling Alma Tadema oil paintings for an arm and a leg, it would have to be Sotheby’s. In November 2010 they sold the Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema oil painting The Finding of Moses for a record USD $35,922,500, the highest ever price for the artist. In May 2011 a similar result was repeated with the sale of The Meeting of Antony and Cleopatra: 41 B.C. for USD $29,202,500. That’s right – two paintings for a grand sum of USD$65 million.... Read more

Tadema and a visit to his stately mansion

Oct 02 2011 12:25PM | by Staff Editor

Although Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema was a Dutchman by birth and a Belgian by artistic training (he was schooled at the Royal Academy of Antwerp), he was, by all accounts, an Anglophile who would later became a knight and an all-around English gentleman. So how does a gentleman live? Thanks to Google archiving and the New York Times, everyday folk like us have access to information that would have been long forgotten. A fascinating article from May 25, 1879 describes a journalist’s visit to the stately home of Sir Lawrence and his wife Laura. The article begins with an anonymous quote from a contemporary painter of Alma-Tadema: “Oh, Alma-Tadema! He is a king among princes in the profession. Who dare compare one’s self with him.” Too right, one wonders. How do you compare yourself with someone considered the pre-eminent painter in England, and much less, the whole of Europe? Nevertheless, the Times are not known for their fearful journalists, and the reader is not disappointed either. We learn that a group of people were invited to Alma Tadema’s house, which was reached after a drive through Hyde Park and into the area known as Regent’s Park. The interesting fact was, of... Read more

Alma-Tadema’s greatest work – Geta and Caracalla

Sep 18 2011 06:36PM | by Staff Editor

For regular readers of this Alma-Tadema blog, you should be aware that Sir Lawrence had an eye for detail and meticulous research skills. He would spend months, even years, researching every last aspect of a scene before preparing sketches and drawings. He would then, finally, start producing his famed Romantic themed oil on canvas artworks. While many of Tadema’s works have sold for millions upon millions, one rarely rates a mention in the media today - Caracalla and Geta, A Bear Fight in the Coliseum, which Sir Lawrence rated himself as the best oil painting he ever produced. The Alma Tadema painting, measuring 123 cm x 154 cm, was completed in July, 1907. According to a New York Times article from that month, the painting failed to be completed in time for the exhibition at the Royal Academy. Instead, it was first displayed at a Bond St gallery, London. According to the article, Alma-Tadema declared it the best oil painting he had ever painted as it successfully “visualise(d) the bravery and luxury of Rome at its height and to sum up the knowledge of Roman life and civilisation he had acquired during years of study”. The picture, as in many... Read more

Alma-Tadema paintings, two silk curtains and a settee

Sep 04 2011 09:12PM | by Staff Editor

In one of our previous posts we touched on the Lawrence Alma-Tadema edition Steinway piano, and how it was the most expensive piano ever sold at auction. Yes, the Dutch born maestro squeezed out a multimillion dollar design, just enough to make everyone involved that much richer. But did you know Alma-Tadema also designed and produced silk curtains and at least three settees? The designs were, of course, in line with his interest in classicism and mostly consisted of Egyptian and Roman motifs. So where does a member of the public go to see an Alma-Tadema designed settee? The first location should be the Victoria and Albert Museum (VA museum), United Kingdom. Yes, we know most of our readers might not go specially there (considering you live in another country), but their website provides a nice summary of the couch. First of all, it looks straight out of an Alma-Tadema painting. As pictured here in the blog, the couch/settee was first exhibited in 1893, designed by Alma-Tadema and made by Johnstone, Norman and Co. The bench is a solid top, inlaid around the edges and sits on a pair of turned and inlaid Pompeian style legs on one long side... Read more

Tadema paintings and modern day movies – more than meets the eye

Aug 21 2011 11:44PM | by Staff Editor

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema was the Dutch born painter everyone loved, then everyone hated, then everyone loved again. To be clear – in his existence he was revered for his classical and distinctive style, so much so that he was knighted; upon his death Post Impressionism, Cubism, Fauvism and Futurism took hold, all movements which disapproved of his style. In fact, the attitudes changed so much that some critics labelled him the worst painter of the 19th century. The naysayers influenced lasted quite long, right up until the 1960s. Since then, however, Alma-Tadema paintings have been re-evaluated, with Hollywood and the global film industry surprisingly leading the way. Ever watched the 2005 film The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and thought how classical and precise the interior of Cair Paravel castle was? Well, you have Tadema paintings to thank. According to director Andrew Adamson, the painter’s artwork was the inspiration for the design, with graphic artists heavily referencing a wide selection of paintings. Alma-Tadema was well known for his meticulous archaeological research when preparing paintings, hence the community’s faith in the accuracy of his depictions. For example, his works concerning Roman architecture are particularly revered –... Read more

Alma Tadema and the most expensive piano (ever)

Jul 24 2011 09:53PM | by Staff Editor

You’d be forgiven for not knowing which famous painter, of any period, was responsible for designing the most expensive piano ever. For starters, there are literally hundreds of famous painter-designers. But who would have picked Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, the Dutch born painter and practitioner of the academicism movement? Alma-Tadema was noted for his intense and detail-specific approach to oil painting where he would meticulously research a historical subject before he began to paint. Designing a piano, therefore, would seem like one of the least likely things he would have done (especially when one thinks of Dali, for example, who designed numerous items in his lifetime). So what and why was this piano so special? The piano in question is none other than the Alma-Tadema Art Case Steinway, created in 1887 with noted fine-art decorations by Alma-Tadema. It was described at a 1992 Christie’s auction in London as “the most artistic piano ever produced”; at the same auction it was sold for $1.2 million, which set the record for the highest sum paid for a piano sold at auction. The buyer was the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, where the piano remains to this day. Although it... Read more

Paint like an Egyptian - Alma-Tadema paintings from Merovingian to Egyptian

Jul 11 2011 12:04PM | by Staff Editor

Not many members of the public could claim to know a specialist Merovingian subject painter – well, now you can, sort of anyways. Dutch painter Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s legacy lies in Romanticism styled classical-subject artworks, but he also produced dozens of beautiful paintings depicting his first historical interest – Merovingian history, themes and mythology. Alma-Tadema was first introduced to Merovingian themes in 1855 when he became an assistant to professor and painter Louis Jan de Taeye, who himself taught history. De Taeye lent him books about Merovingian history, sparking Alma-Tadema’s interest in the Salian Frankish dynasty that ruled Gaul from the middle of the 5th century. This influence would stay with him throughout his life and indeed led to his defining moment as a painter. In 1861 he debuted his first major work: The Education of the children of Clovis, which depicted Queen Clotilde, wife of King Clovis, watching as her three young children trained in the art of hurling the axe to avenge their father’s death. The story was straight out of the Merovingian textbooks, and its accuracy and style would garner Alma-Tadema high praise from the critics. The painting was so well received that at the time it was... Read more

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema and his great wife, the Lady Laura

May 24 2011 10:57AM | by Staff Editor

In the lexicon of world famous painters one notices an undisputable fact: the overwhelming names are all men, and very few women. In the case of the Impressionists, everyone knows Monet, Renoir, Sisley etcetera – but what of Mary Cassatt? While the issue may simply reflect the more patriarchal nature of society at the time, women had crucial roles to play as well. Without their wives Pissarro and Sisley would have struggled to maintain their family and importantly, their painting careers; others, such as Dali’s wife Gala, played more prominent roles. She acted as his financial planner, agent and business partner. It is in this regard that we examine Lady Laura Theresa Alma-Tadema, the second wife of Sir Lawrence and a notable painter in her own right. Lady Laura was born Laura Theresa Epps in 1852, a daughter of Dr George Napoleon Epps. The couple first met when Lawrence visited England on a business trip - she was aged just 17 and he was aged 33. He returned to Europe, but the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in July 1870 and the death of Lawrence’s first wife led him to move to London, where he re-contacted Laura. He arranged painting... Read more

Lawrence Alma-Tadema Painting Set to Break Records

May 03 2011 09:42AM | by Staff Editor

In May of 2011, a Lawrence Alma-Tadema painting goes up for auction at Sotheby's in New York. The company is hoping to break previous price records for Tadema paintings with this sale. When Lawrence Alma-Tadema completed the painting "The Meeting of Antony and Cleopatra" in 1883, it caused an immediate sensation. Paintings based on historical topics were not rare during the life of Alma-Tadema. It was common for painters to reach into antiquity for inspiration and buyers snapped up these images to hand in their homes. But rather than drawing on historical accounts to inspire his painting, Alma-Tadema looked back to Shakespeare. "Antony and Cleopatra" by Shakespeare was often staged during Alma-Tadema's life, and he drew upon this play to set the stage for this Tadema painting. The scene is as follows: Cleopatra was summoned to the Roman Empire to pledge her loyalty to the regime. Antony, upon viewing her beauty, falls madly in love and the two leave the realm together. This painting shows the very first time Antony views the beautiful Cleopatra. She lounges in her carriage, surrounded by servants, flowers and lute players. Her pose is casual, and she looks out at the viewer with a coy... Read more

How Interest in Tadema Was Reawakened

Apr 26 2011 01:55PM | by Staff Editor

While Lawrence Alma Tadema was remarkably well known and quite wealthy during his lifetime, his reputation went into rapid and serious decline after his death. Critics considered his style slightly overblown. Historical paintings fell out of fashion. Suddenly, one of the most sought-after painters was considered a painter to avoid. It's likely that Alma Tadema paintings would have remained obscure, except for the work of one collector, a television show, a crime and an auction. In the 1940s, Allen Funt created an empire with a television show called "Candid Camera." People's reactions were taped as they were confronted with strange and unusual circumstances. Audiences couldn't get enough of the show, and Funt became a wealthy man. He hired an accountant, and began living a life of relative leisure. For starters, he began collecting paintings by Tadema. Perhaps the bright colors and sweeping scenery shown in Ask Me no More appealed to Funt. Or, perhaps Tadema's sense of scenery and stagecraft appealed to a man who worked in show business. Consider Pleading as an example. The man has showered the woman with flowers, and waits with an expectant look while she appears to consider the offer. From the first glance, it's... Read more

Lawrence Alma Tadema: Paintings as a Result of Study

Apr 10 2011 05:49PM | by Staff Editor

Lawrence Alma Tadema is well known as a painter of lush, dramatic images of Greece and Rome. He has been accused of being a sort of "fluff" painter who drew inspiration from his imagination and generated paintings that had no correlation with real life. Luckily, modern scholars are overturning this accusation and Tadema is being recognized for his preparatory work, and the realism he brought to his paintings. The Dahesh Museum of Art in New York is including sketches by Lawrence Alma Tadema in a current exhibition. The exhibition focuses on how artists prepare themselves to paint by drawing and sketching out elements of the image before they begin. At times, these sketches look much like the finished product. Other times, the sketches are aborted ideas or only small aspects of the painting that the artist wanted to get just right. Tadema's sketch, made for his painting A Reading of Homer, contains an image of three women lounging. One is playing a musical instrument, while the other two listen. The geometry of the image is well laid out, with a vanishing point clearly marked, but the rest of the details are hastily drawn. Tadema sent this sketch to a prospective... Read more